The Value of Program Management for Interactive Marketing

When most people hear "program management" they think "<yawn>."  It's not a sexy skill set, like User Experience Design, Web Strategy or Flash Development.  I've heard program managers jokingly referred to as "overhead."  They have been confused with Project Managers and can be accused of knowing a little about a lot of topics but being an expert in none.  I had a conversation with a good friend last week about whether program management skills could even add value in an advertising agency environment, whose halls are filled with right-brained creative wizards.  For crying out loud, the main homepage of a primary industry nonprofit for program managers, the International Association of Project and Program Management, has a voice welcome on it's homepage that could be the same guy who does the radio sponsor spots on NPR.  

In the words of Mitch McDeere, "It may not be sexy, but it's got teeth."

What is program management?

Wikipedia calls it "the process of managing multiple inter-dependent ongoing projects."  This could apply to several dozen or even thousands of projects.  Program management is a discipline that requires leadership, vision, creativity, organizational and political savvy, and communication.  The large IT consulting firms have figured out that program management is critical to the success of client initiatives.  My old firm Accenture actually created their own training class called Value Driven Program Management, emphasizing the focus on measuring outcomes and return on investment vs. the business case for an initiative.  I always thought that internally at the firm, this skill set was valued more than in the marketplace.

How does it apply to interactive marketing?

Interactive marketing, according to Wikipedia, is the "ability to address the customer, remember what the customer says and address the customer again in a way that illustrates that we remember what the customer has told us."  The online channel is a primary vehicle for interactive marketers who use search engines, email, web analytics, display advertising, optimized websites and (increasingly) social media to engage customers and drive their businesses.  Interactive marketing departments are typically full of deeply skilled SEO and SEM specialists, visual designers, marketing veterans and technologists.  

These marketing departments need the same leadership, coordination, and strategy to drive multiple disciplines, projects and campaigns to achieve goals for the company.  Good program managers in this space are influencing the outcome; they are navigating the marketing, sales and product development organizations in a company to align executive sponsors, building a roadmap and budget, energizing resources to execute on the vision, and measuring the results.  Retailers that do this well have campaigns online that match other channels, exploring multi-channel campaigns.  Who is behind making all of these marketing pieces come together, execute on plan and achieve the value for the company?  Program management.

What about agencies?

In the agency environment the program management domain is just as critical, with the added pressures and challenges of navigating both the internal and client organizations.  Traditional media and new media agencies need this skill set to execute and deliver – otherwise the creative talent will generate a lot of good work but may be disillusioned, unfocused and be at risk for not meeting the client's objectives or expectations.  This video is a parody of the client/agency relationship gone wrong (thanks to Kate Brodock):

How do you see the program management function in your organization?  Is the program management discipline at your company effective?  Why or why not?

photo credit: stephendann via flickr  … and no, that book was not written by yours truly but I'll have to check it out.

Top 5 Ways to Build Team Commitment

"I am only as good as the team I surround myself with."  I've said it many times.  This statement applies to any team environment, but especially in professional services.  It applies to large projects, small projects, quick and easy projects and those complex, painful, challenging projects that everyone claims one day "you'll look back on this as a learning experience." 

Commitment and compliance are two very different states for project teams.  A compliant team is one that shows up because they have to.  They may not actually punch a time clock, but at the end of the day they shuffle their feet to the parking lot – they may even run out the door.  They are working on the project because, well, what else would they do.  A committed team treats the project like their own garden or pet – they obsess over it, they care for it, they own it.  They are thinking ahead of how to do it better, already solving the next three problems that haven't been discovered.  The project just 'clicks.'  It's much easier to go from a committed team to a compliant one.  A couple of poorly managed challenges can easily break the chain, and it's much harder to go from a compliant team to a committed one.

How do you get a team together that 'clicks'?  How do you transform your team into a high performing one?  Here are my top five means I like to employ to help build a solid team that is engaged, exceeding expectations and most importantly, committed.  (Not quite to the level of the Spartans in 300 though – now that's commitment).  I'd love to expand to this list and hear your thoughts – this is certainly not an exhaustive list.

1.  Roles and Responsibilities

It's important to know your team members and their skill sets to make sure each is in the right role, and it's even more important for the team members to know what their responsibilities are.  Often times expectations aren't laid out for teams up front that are in line with a project's expected outcomes or objectives.

2.  Empowerment and Ownership

Once you have roles that are clearly defined for your team members and expectations set, empower them – let them "do their thing" – and hold them accountable for the success and outcomes of their role.  Set expectations that "you own it," with some guidance and parameters on what they need to do.  Support them, back them up.  One example I often use:  "I don't really care which hours of the day you work, so long as you can make sure we meet our commitment on the deadline.  What do you think and what's your plan?"

3.  Trust

Trust needs to be earned, but also requires some faith.  In a leadership position you need to grant some trust in order to start the chain.  With follow-through and execution, trust will build.  It's only a matter of time until you can finish each other's sentences. 

4.  Recognition

When a job is well done, don't skimp on recognizing the team.  Highlight small wins and big wins all along the way.  Look for those folks who aren't inclined to shout about their accomplishments.  Make sure the management team stays in touch with what is happening and shares good news – not just the crises.

5.  A Sense of Humor

Stress affects people differently.  I, for one, need an environment where laughter exists.  If everyone is so heads down focused without time for a good practical joke, to laugh at ourselves or share some good project humor, I'm not interested.  Projects can be tedious, lighten up!

What other means would you recommend for building a solid and committed team?  What things do you remember most about good teams you have been a part of?  What made them "click"?

Transitions: The new

Borders2 On Memorial Day, 2008, with little fanfare, Borders Group, Inc. embarked on a new chapter novel in the history of the company.  And it was most certainly, memorable.  With a few final technical switches thrown, Borders transitioned the outsourcing of their eCommerce site from Amazon to a robust, unique and compelling presence.  It's daunting being an internet retailer in 2008, without having access to customer information or control over the multi-channel experience.  Now Borders has brought their .com presence back inside the walls of the headquarters in Ann Arbor, MI. Welcome back home,

The basic design principle of the site is to create a real bookstore experience online.  In this case, the store holds nearly 3 million titles including DVDs and CDs.  In a market where Borders is trying to differentiate itself against competitors, this experience is different and more engaging.  I find myself browsing the site much like I would a store – wander in to a section and drill deeper using the guided navigation.  The Magic Shelf on the homepage gives the same feel of being in a bookstore, complete with staff picks, and goes beyond with personal recommendations based on your preferences.  The look of search results and the Magic Shelf, rich with images of cover artwork, are right in line with Borders' recent strategy to merchandise books with the covers facing out.

I'm biased, I admit it.  Brulant, my company, has played a major role in the Websphere Commerce design and development of this project, along with many other partners.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am currently the client engagement partner for Brulant's work at Borders.  Borders has been a significant client of Brulant since mid 2006.  From February 2007 until now, I personally have spent nearly full time on working with Borders as a client.  I did ask for and receive permission from Borders to blog about this event.

The best part of the culmination of years of work: I couldn't be more thrilled with the outcome.  There has been a lot of "sweat equity" invested by the entire team – Borders, Brulant and other partners alike – and it's rewarding to see it all come together.  There were some hard times and some good times, as any business partnership between two companies would go through.  In the end, there is absolutely nothing more satisfying, invigorating and motivating than when it all comes together, the team produces high quality work, the site is launched, and orders start rolling in. 

For the last several years, Borders' eCommerce team has been looking forward to doing what most eCommerce teams do – interact with customers, fine tune the user experience, adjust functionality based on web analytics and market the bejeezus out of the site.  (The site just launched officially today, so not a lot of heavy marketing of the site yet…but do a Google News search on "" and you'll see the extensive press coverage.)  Now the team can take the reins and start the evolution of web commerce optimization.  As much as it is the end of a multi-year project, it's the beginning of a new journey for the company.  Today the entire team on site in Ann Arbor signed a copy of the first order shipped to be framed, to signify the start of that journey (see picture above).

It's a new journey for yours truly as well, as I focus on trying to do more good work for other clients while continuing to figure out ways to help Borders on their journey.  A special thank you to the entire Brulant team who worked through many project challenges and set a high bar for delivery with future clients.  Another thank you to the Borders crowd, who are a passionate and diverse group, fun to work with and gracious hosts for having our team walk the halls.  I think the thing I am most grateful for is the opportunity to continue learning, while being a part of a core strategic initiative for a retailer.  Thank you and Congratulations, job well done.

Special thanks to Kevin Ertell, VP of eBusiness for Borders, for encouraging me to post about this event here. 

UPDATE: Here is Brulant's official press release related to our role with the new 

Please check out the new – it is a different experience than your traditional online bookseller.  Feedback, suggestions, comments are welcome. 

The New

Competence is King

How do you establish trust in a service provider? When you bring your car in for service, do you go to a certified dealer or the local mechanic? How did you choose – based on your relationship with the mechanic? Your loyalty to the dealer? Your concern about the car?

As a consumer you have many options and factors that influence your decision to buy services.  In the long term, however, you continue to engage in your service provider at a minimum because that provider demonstrated competence in what you seek.  The same principle applies to companies, large or small, that rely on partner firms to solve business problems.  Quite simply, any consultant needs to be competent in solving relevant problems for the client or it will not work.

One of the clients I work with is in the top 250 internet retailers, a small family-owned and operated business that moved years ago from a paper catalog to the online channel.  The catalog makes up 10-20% of its business today, and bricks-n-mortar another 5-10% – but the online channel took off.  As an early adopter of IBM Websphere Commerce, the client engaged a partner firm 8 years ago to help maintain its website.  As the online channel grew, it became apparent that a small technology shop was not suitable to maintain a best of breed site.  As recently as March of 2007 the company still used a modem to download it’s orders on a daily basis. 

Enter my current firm.  As one of the top business partners for IBM Websphere Commerce, we were able to demonstrate not only our knowledge of the product but the deep relationships to IBM’s Websphere labs in Toronto.  With core expertise in the internet retail industry, we were able to demonstrate how we could more effectively manage the website for the client and build a long term roadmap for improvements to keep up with an evolving industry.  We not only constructed a multi-year deal to maintain the Websphere Commerce installation, we have been able to make substantial impact to the business in other areas where we provide relevant expertise:  creative support for campaigns, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) driving significant % in additional revenue, and in the long term a substantial upgrade and conversion focused redesign.

The point is that through bringing the relevant expertise to bear, we are able to demonstrate through competence in online retailing, Websphere Commerce, SEM, and interactive design that we can both have a fundamental impact on the client’s business, provide value and demonstrate ROI in a long term fruitful business relationship.  Not to mention a happy client is a fun one.

How do you decide what service provider you engage, from babysitters to car service to business partners?