A Project Manager's View on Branding Statements

On this #MusicalMonday, we explore Branding from the perspective of a Project Manager. For the past several years, many of us have heard the terms Personal Brand or Branding Statement. These terms are commonly used in the job market space, to be used by job seekers as a means of setting themselves ahead of the competition. This is done to lock in the focus of the company they wish to work for. This makes sense. Nothing new here. This is probably one of the best tools of a marketing campaign. Whether that campaign is to gain majority market share for a tangible product (automobiles), a service (tax preparation service) or a job (computer programmer), the campaign is a project and projects must have a detailed plan to ensure that risks are limited and opportunities are boundless. A good project manager will help see this through...identifying risks and managing them properly, while always keeping a close eye on the project schedule, the project budget and the project's scope.

In the world of job seeking, many job seekers are asked by career counselors "What is your brand?" or "What is your branding statement?". It's the second one that I am concerned with. My brand is me. Just like Ajax Powdered Cleanser is the brand of the company, Colgate-Polmolive. The brand, Ajax Powdered Cleanser is the brand of the company's product line of household cleansers. The Branding Statement is nothing more than a slogan. A slogan IS a form of intellectual property that, if the creator does their due diligence, they will protect that slogan through their government's patent and trademark office. In the United States, there is the United States Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov/trademark), where you can find enough information regarding registration procedures, fees and renewal steps and costs. 

Now, we take a look at, or take a listen to, Ajax's Branding Statement, "Stronger Than Dirt". On January 3, 1964, this Branding Statement was registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4806:3zhtje.2.2). In their radio and television advertisements, we can hear it being used (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToNNpP6DVsw). The comments in this YouTube video allude to The Doors' "Touch Me", which was heard a few years later (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPTBd6fJuso). There are enough similarities between to two "Stronger Than Dirt" musical properties (melody and arrangement) that it could have been subject to copyright infringement. 

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62456577

Whether The Doors were taken to court for this, I don't know, but in 1987, Nike, Inc. found themselves in a precarious position. Perhaps if they had a Project Management Professional managing their marketing campaign, they would have not violated the intellectual property rights that were owned by the Beatles and their heirs. In 1987, Nike, Inc. used the original recording of the Beatles' "Revolution" in their television advertisements. This resulted in the Beatles' filing a lawsuit against them for a sum of $15,000,000.00. As George Harrison said "the spot opened the door for the band's songs to be used to advertise everything from women's underwear to sausages". (https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-sports/story-behind-nikes-controversial-1987-revolution-commercial-192421/). By doing this, the Beatles' protected their brand and their reputation. This is an important lesson for all of us, as we need to protect our reputation in the marketplace. Your career, whether you are looking for new opportunities or living off of your legacy of proven work, requires that you protect it.

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62456568

Let's not forget the name "Apple" for a company. Who do you think of when someone asks about Apple? John, Paul, George and Ringo? Or Steve? Apple Corp, was founded by the Beatles in 1968, with their first single being "Hey Jude". In 1976, Apple Computers was founded by Steve Jobs. There was an ongoing case for years (https://sites.udel.edu/cisc356/2014/04/21/apple-corps-v-apple-computer-1978-2006/) which left the principals of Apple Corps vulnerable to other infringements of intellectual property.

Whether your Branding Statement is simple and benign, something to fill up a line on your LinkedIn profile, business card or resume, OR it is a clever, little sound bite that will capture the hearts and minds of generations to come, think like a Project Manager by understanding the risks and how to manage them. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office's YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHDRV2NTSEk), a company can take any intellectual property that you may not have registered and register it, as their own, with the USPTO and have legal rights to any product and marketing materials with that branding statement.

Through music, we as Project Managers can gain from the #lessonslearned about #risks, #riskmanagement, #scope, #compliance, #productdevelopment and #costmanagement by examining the things that went right and the things that went wrong. Hopefully, we'll save our clients' years, and perhaps decades, of unwanted legal entanglement.    

The Need for Agile in Corporate Finance

 As I continue to study, learn, understand and share my lessons on the value of the Agile framework, I realize that the journey's destination is a lot further away than I had expected. Well, that's Agile for you!

I recently had the experience of managing an infrastructure move project for a large financial services corporation. It was an experience that I won't soon forget as I realized that all of the tools that I've mastered in both the Waterfall and Agile methodologies don't really matter if the culture of the company, or any of its departments, are not ready to adapt them. This particular project was dormant for eight months before my arrival. Let me put it another way...the project was in a coma for eight months. I was the third project manager assigned to it and the project was still in the brain storming or concept phase, with no clear scope, schedule or budget agreed on by the stakeholders and the sponsors.

That's fine for me. This was my opportunity to apply skills, experience and insight to get this project out of its coma. I was able to do that within a three month period but not without a major realization of the topic of this post. We frequently hear of cultural transformations in departments, divisions and companies from Waterfall to Agile. When we drill down to the functional departments we hear about Agile methods or the Agile framework in software development, product development and process improvement delivering value early on. [What does that mean "...delivering value early on"? To put it simply, the concept of Minimal Viable Product is something that can be put to use and reap a return on investment as soon as it's put to use. This helps keep project costs down and also allows for the project to fund itself. The best example is the construction of a multi-tenant building which will have rentable/leasable units before the total construction is complete. In other words, complete one of six units and lease it immediately, which will help in recovering the investment and help finance the rest of the project. Each completion and renting/leasing of the six units can be considered as a Sprint and has the added benefits of a lower Internal Rate of Return and Minimizing Financial Risk.]

The project that I worked on was no different that most projects in that I had to be mindful of the triple constraint (Scope, Schedule and Budget). What I soon came to realize was that it was the Budget leg of that triangle which had the least agility. For this project, the Corporate Finance department, which feeds the project financially, was also its biggest threat by not "feeding" the project and starving it out of existence. To this day, there are many companies that have finance departments that are predictable and monolithic, meaning their budgeting practices are mapped to the fiscal year at the enterprise level. If a project's budget cannot meet the deadlines required of estimation, execution and management within a certain timeframe, then the funds are withdrawn and the project management team MUST go through the entire process to secure project funding again.

When I asked some of my Agile colleagues about this, they introduced me to the concept of "Beyond Budgeting" (https://www.toolshero.com/financial-management/beyond-budgeting/)    There are twelve principles of  Beyond Budgeting and Four Benefits. Two of those benefits are Shorter Response Time and Lower Costs. These two benefits would have also minimized an unforeseen risk, that became an issue having negatively impacted the Project Schedule as well as the Project Health/Performance. This unforeseen risk is the current pandemic that we are experiencing right now - COVID-19.

In conclusion, had the Corporate Finance department of this organization adapted the principals and practices of Beyond Budgeting when the rest of the organization went through their Agile Transformation in 2016, then it is reasonable to say that this infrastructure move project could have been completed in the eight months before my arrival and the organization would have reduced their exposure of financial loss once COVID-19 came upon us.

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A Project Manager's View on Branding Statements