Project Success Story: Party Early & Often

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

You don’t need a large budget or a lot of time to make your project stick in the minds of those in your organization. With a little ingenuity, you can get people engaged in the mission of your project and have a lot of fun, too. Here are three things we did right in one of my first enterprise projects that captured stakeholder attention and brought excitement to what we were doing:

  • Involved the entire company in a project naming contest
  • Communicated project messages frequently and in unexpected ways
  • Put creative thought into the project completion celebration

I was working with a pharmaceutical company struggling to communicate real-time project information across locations, allow leadership to view the progress of projects across departments, and tracking of drugs in various stages of development. To address these issues, our team found an Enterprise Project Management (EPM) solution capable of meeting the company’s needs, received funding approval, and presented the project to the executive team.

In the middle of this presentation, the CEO of the company stopped me and asked, “What’s the name of it?” I proceeded to explain the different technologies that made up the solution. He then responded, “No, this project needs a name!” Good point. But rather than name the project ourselves, my team decided to hold a company-wide contest. We did this because widespread awareness of the project was a critical success factor for the team, and thus we wanted to generate a buzz before kickoff. We sent an email to everyone in the organization saying, “Help us name our project!” We provided very general guidelines (“This project will help improve company-wide project communication and collaboration”) and offered a $100 gift card for the person with the winning idea.

The contest was an immediate success, and nearly everyone in the company submitted at least one idea – Some submitted more than five! The submissions were clever, very funny, and thoughtful (I mean, who doesn’t like PIE: The Project Information Exchange?). We asked the executive staff to select the winning name, and the name Mercury (the god of communication) was chosen.

Aside from a great name, we were able to reap significant rewards from our naming contest. Since all of the suggestions came from outside the project team, there was a level of interest in the project across the whole enterprise. Further, as the executive leadership team was responsible for choosing the winning name, our project remained top-of-mind with them, and had a chance to see the level of enterprise-wide participation and interest in the project firsthand. Everyone knew Mercury was on its way, and they wanted to see what it was.

Once the name was chosen, we decided we needed a face to go with it. We were able to find a great picture of Mercury online: a simple, blue smiley-face with a winged hat. He became our logo and mascot. We included his smiling face in our team communications and, eventually, within the web-based solution itself. The Mercury character made a transformative technology personal and friendly.

When the project was underway, we knew we needed to keep it top of mind for everyone in the organization. Our strategy was to grab attention by communicating our message in unexpected ways.  One week, we selected magazine photos with famous (and not so famous) people on them. We then replaced the celebrity faces in the photos with images of project stakeholders throughout the company, attaching cartoon captions on the ads. One featured a Manager saying, “I can’t wait to see what Mercury will do for my department!” while playing basketball with one of the Directors (and George Clooney). The Director was shown responding, “Yeah, I’m pretty excited too.”

Early one morning – before anyone else had arrived – we taped the doctored photos all over the building. The response was immediate. People were walking from one department to another to see the different photos and who on their team would be featured from each department. The clippings were hilarious and spurred even greater buzz. The level of interest also pushed our team to ensure we were successful; we knew we had to deliver a good product on time and under budget. We sacrificed a few nights and weekends to ensure everything was done and done well. It was an exciting time, and everyone on the team was focused on making the project successful.

As the go-live date approached, the team decided to celebrate in a unique way. We planned a birthday party on the day Mercury would be “born”. The day of go-live, we sent out an email announcing cake and ice cream would be served that afternoon to announce the birth of Mercury. We brought in blue balloons, candy cigars, streamers, and had a party. Everyone came (seriously, who doesn’t like cake and ice cream at work?), and our CEO said a few words congratulating the team and communicating his enthusiasm for the new project management system. Naysayers at the beginning of the project were happily stuffing their faces with cake and celebrating the success along with the rest of us. It was a great moment – and a project the entire team could be proud of. We delivered a solution that brought tremendous benefit to the company – and we couldn’t have done it without the end-to-end support we received from our fully engaged stakeholders. It’s amazing what a little creativity and resourcefulness can do!

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Originally published January 01 2016, updated January 01 2019