The Herald Bulletin

August 1, 2013

Susan Miller: How do you eat an elephant-sized project?

SUSAN MILLER The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — Question: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time. While this question and answer is a bit cliché, it presents a comforting perspective when a project seems overwhelming.

I frequently work with organizations to communicate large initiatives such as a new product campaign, awareness program or high-profile speaking event. Whether it’s the “devil in the details” or the “little foxes spoiling the vineyard,” it’s frequently the little things that can throw a project off track.

Yet it’s also important not to lose sight of the big project, or “elephant.” How is it possible to keep one eye on an elephant-size project and another on the little details such as news releases, catering, and VIP security?

When faced with an overwhelming project, here are some helpful guidelines:

u Begin with the end in mind. After the initiative is completed, what are the desired results? This may be a 10 percent improvement in customer satisfaction ratings, a sold-out event, or positive feedback from industry analysts.

u Who are the key players? Every coach knows that the whole team isn’t required to execute every play. Consider the team players that are invaluable in meeting the goal and include them in the launch meeting. You may not need information technology or public relations team members until a later phase in the project, but it’s a good idea to include them in the launch overview and advise them of key dates.

u Create a project plan. The Internet is full of project plan templates. However, resist the urge to get too fancy with flow charts and complex diagrams. I favor a grid created in a spreadsheet template that breaks functions down for each project strategy.

u Under the strategy of “promotions” for example, a project plan would include columns for the following steps: tactics, description, driver (the person responsible), budget and deadline. Plugging in names, dates and dollars for each strategy brings a sense of organization to the project and can also alert planners to potential problems related to timing or resources.

u Define roles. Ever heard, “I thought so-and-so was handling ticketing/scheduling/logistics”? Identifying and documenting tactical drivers in the project plan described above can help prevent embarrassing surprises.

u Create subcommittees. Subcommittees are a great way for teams to contribute their expertise and knowledge, and they help to avoid the time drain associated with large committee meetings. However, subcommittee leaders should come together periodically to report on the progress of their teams’ work. No one wants to find out at the 11th hour that the “work ticket” in IT fell through the system.

u Communicate. Information is not just power, it also prevents the rumor mill from running amok. Regular updates will create familiarity and foster a sense of inclusiveness. Forget about fancy, three-page reports. A Facebook group can be an effective way of tracking progress, or providing periodic project updates.

Follow these tips and the next big project that lands in your in-box may be easier to digest!

Susan Miller is owner of Ewing Miller Communications, an Anderson marketing firm. Her column appears the first Thursday of each month. Contact her at