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For a group of people who do not have “Project Manager” as a title, pharmaceutical marketers certainly do an incredible amount of project management. Whether it is organising a promotional meeting, developing marketing collateral or overseeing a website build, there is certainly a lot of it going on. The problem, however, is that very few brand managers are particularly good at it. This results in deadlines being blown, budgets wasted and a marketing team running around like the proverbial blue-bummed fly, with very little constructive being delivered.

We therefore thought we’d try and flag four of the most common mistakes that we see whilst working with brand teams.

  • Not critically assessing whether the project is worth doing in the first place
  • Not taking the time to accurately scope a project
  • Not building a detailed, visible plan
  • Not capturing the lessons learned

#1 Not critically assessing whether the project is worth doing in the first place

In many ways, this is the foundational error made by brand teams. In today’s fast-paced world where resources such as time and budget are limited, we no longer have the luxury of kicking off projects that do not add value to the organisation or, alternatively, divert resources from other, potentially more lucrative, projects.

As a general rule, I think that it is safe to say that not one of the teams we have worked with has ever had a policy of critical assessment of projects before they are kicked off. The only elements that are routinely assessed are inputs such as budget or headcount, and precious little thought is given to outputs such as return on investment.

Whether the project is worth doing, however, is not just about value, it is also very much about risk. Does the value you expect to receive balance the risk to which you are potentially exposing the company? Now it is essential to realise that not all risk is bad, in fact strategy risks are an inherent part of doing business in a certain way – no risk, no reward – but the risk MUST we worth the potential reward.

The final point I’d like to flag here is that projects are very seldom, if ever, undertaken in isolation. Each project therefore competes for resources in terms of either cash or peoples’ time. By kicking off a project without carefully considering the impact that project will have on other activities in the business is simply irresponsible. It leads to high levels of stress, frustration, sub-standard quality and potentially a failed project. The message here is to think through everything value, risk and the potential impact on other activities before kicking any new project off.

#2 Not taking the time to accurately scope the project

Error number two is particularly prevalent in organisations that are characterised by fast paced cultures or a predominance of individuals with a red or yellow Insights behaviour preference. The temptation here is to rush in without truly understanding exactly what you have been asked to deliver.

The danger here is that the project you deliver may not actually meet the needs of the organisation and so not fill the business need you are trying to meet. In addition, you lay yourself open to project creep – continuous or uncontrolled growth in a project’s scope, at any point after the project begins. This is a natural end result when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled and results in blown budgets, missed deadlines and very, very unhappy stakeholders.

Speaking of stakeholders, it is essential that you involve them right from the start – and this means taking them on the journey with you. In the pharmaceutical industry, this is particularly true of the medical team who are normally the ones required to sign off the resulting materials. Bring them in early so that they understand the project and have a very good grasp of context. A by-product is that many of medics that I have worked with are extremely insightful and have really helped shape the project in a practical and compliant way.

In addition, stakeholders, particularly management further up the food chain, can have the most wonderfully selective memories about what was agreed. By carefully scoping the project and capturing everything in a scoping document you provide a record of what was agreed.

#3 Not building a detailed, visible project plan

I can’t even begin to guess the number of projects I have seen brand managers undertake without a visible, formal project plan. The usual litany of “I haven’t the time to build one”, or “It’s all in my head” and so on, usually follows any request to see said project plan.

Now, I can certainly understand brand managers not having time – running around like blue-bummed flies is usually a default setting for the job – but not to take the time you need to build a plan is just plain short-sighted. By taking a few hours to thoroughly plan your project, you will end up saving a huge amount of work, frustration and embarrassment later in the process. Visible project plans allow you to check whether you have all of the required tasks covered and that you are spreading the work more evenly across team members and time. Critically, visible project plans allow you to share the plan with team members and track projects more accurately over time.

The next mistake in building a project plan is trying to do it alone – you may well be the smartest person in any group, but seldom will you be in command of all of the information you need. Use the resources at your disposal – call in the expertise of your team members and agencies working with you on the project. This issue follows nicely into two more common mistakes – not being detailed enough in your plan and underestimating the amount of time each task will take. If your plan is not detailed enough, you will miss out steps in delivering each task. This will affect the scheduling of each activity, resulting in blown timelines and, potentially, missed activities that affect your deliverables.

Finally, building a project plan is essential, but so is developing a contingency plan for the high potential threats to your project. Assess each potential threat in terms of its likelihood of occurring and the severity of its potential impact on the project. Threats that are high likelihood and high potential impact must always have a contingency plan in place to mitigate them should they occur.

#4 Not capturing the lessons learned

The final most common mistake that we see is not capturing the lesson learned in a project. Not capturing and sharing these lessons means that each time a project is run, the brand manager tasked with delivering it has to start from scratch each time. This is a shocking waste of knowledge, time and resources.

Now, capturing these insights can, quite simply, be a pain in the proverbial. As a result, we build a framework for a client whereby the project lead captures their insights by videoing themselves. Typically, these lasted two or three minutes and were then downloaded onto a central platform where they could be viewed.

Irrespective of how you capture your insights, it is absolutely critical that you do and that these are in a format that can be easily shared with the rest of the organisation.


The good news though, is that all of these common mistakes are really easy to prevent. By taking some extra time to prioritise your projects, you are able to focus on those that truly deliver value to the business. The same applies to investing time in correctly scoping and planning your projects. The first of these ensures that you do not waste time and resources due to project creep and the second allows you plan systematically and effectively track your progress. Finally, by sharing your lessons, experiences and insights gathered from a project with your colleagues, you are able to build a repository of organisational learning, allowing your colleagues to deliver their projects quickly and efficiently.