Defining Project Objectives is an Art

DVD packaging is hatefulSo last night I sat down in front of the TV I rarely watch and saw an unopened copy of Mr. and Mrs. Smith on DVD. “Hey,” I thought. “I’ll watch that, what a great idea!” And so began another lesson in bad product management.

Of course, the DVD was unopened, so to get at the physical disk, I had to wade through three layers of cellophane, and then the dreaded stickers. You know what I’m talking about. These “nobody’s getting into this DVD case” stickers are made with some kind of industrial strength glue. If you’re lucky enough to get a fingernail under a corner, you’ll only succeed in tearing off that corner, leaving the rest of the sticker completely intact.

It’s not enough to remove a sticker on one side of the DVD case, either. You have to remove them on all three sides. In fact, it might actually be easier to take a jigsaw to the spine of the case, and I’d recommend that if it wouldn’t put the physical disk in jeopardy.

Once you’ve managed to make your way past case security (which would give the CIA a run for its money), remove the disk and insert it into your player, the ads start. Once upon a time, you’d get a couple trailers at the start of your DVD, and you could bypass them by hitting the menu button. Not anymore. Now, DVDs are programmed to not allow the viewer to watch the movie they paid for without first sitting through what seems like 60 minutes of manufacturer propaganda. The entire time, you hammer on your remote’s “Menu” button to be met with an overlay on top of the disk’s brainwashing material, “this operation is prohibited”.

So, there’s a couple things here. First, there’s the security on the package. This is clearly meant to placate copyright holders, and give them peace of mind. Second, there’s the advertising that can’t be ignored. This is meant to placate sponsors. I understand this. I do. The project manager responsible for originating this crap was trying to appease his or her stakeholders.

But at what point did the project manager (okay, I’m sure it was more than one…this hateful method of packaging evolved over time) consider the experience of the end user? If I wind up in a rabid, frothing rage by the time I get to the product I paid my money for, what does this do to my perception of the brand? Quite frankly, as an end user I don’t particularly care about what the stakeholders wanted. I just want to watch my movie. If it’s too much work, or too invasive, or too much of a hassle for me, to be honest, I’m going to take the product back.

The point I’m trying to make here, is that setting project objectives is an art. There’s a delicate balance between a short term stakeholder need and long term implications for your organization’s brand. It’s very common to see project success wither in the face of outcomes that seemed like good ideas at the time.

When you set your objectives, you need to take all factors under consideration, and that includes looking at the success of your project from multiple viewpoints. It’s not easy, but sometimes it means you have to negotiate your stakeholders away from a wish that could hurt the larger picture.

As a project manager, you’re in the driver’s seat. It’s up to you to look beyond what your stakeholders say they want, and help them identify what they really need.

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I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
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