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Initiating a Sales Enablement Project

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Sales enablement practitioners are the ultimate project managers. Whether you need to plan a brief training on a specific skill, gather global teams at a sales kickoff meeting, or launch a new sales methodology, foundational knowledge of how to effectively manage a project is necessary for success in sales enablement.

With any project management initiative, organization and communication are key to overall success. To ensure your project starts on the right footing, it is important to create a plan with a clear outline of what you want to accomplish and how you are going to do so.

Create an effective project management plan with these four building blocks: Defining the problem, managing stakeholders, determining the scope, and performing a project premortem.

Defining the Problem

As the project manager of any project—large to small—it’s your job to oversee many moving parts and details. Early organization and documentation are critical to setting the project up to run as expected, starting with defining the problem. Before anything else, it’s important to determine what you’re trying to accomplish. You should be able to answer the following questions and document them in a project charter:

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • By when does it need to be solved?
  • What are your goals as it pertains to implementing the project?
    • Keep these goals SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Based
  • What resources are available to help solve the problem?
    • Budget, internal talent, external vendors, etc.
  • What is in scope for this project? What is out of scope?

Ideally, you will create a project documentation resource—a PowerPoint file, Excel spreadsheet, or another method—and keep it on a shared content repository. Having a central location where stakeholders can review documentation helps keep everyone in the loop and guides ongoing discussions.

By clearly defining the problem, inviting stakeholders into early planning, working backward, and setting reasonable expectations for what you can accomplish in the time allowed, you’ll get off to a solid start and build the foundation for the life of your project.

“The importance of uniting around a clear mission and goals improves the ability for the team to work together and operate with the same best practices in mind,” said Christopher Kingman, director of international enablement at TransUnion.

Managing Stakeholders

Perhaps as critical as the project itself are those who are involved in making decisions about it. When identifying stakeholders, consider the following parameters:

  • Who will be affected by the outcomes?
  • Who is contributing resources?
  • Who will benefit from the outputs?

Every company is different in its employee resource makeup, but often, project stakeholders will include:

  • Sponsor: Project champion, often at the executive level; Does not generally participate in project planning but requires regular updates
  • Project manager: Identifies central problem and plan to tackle it
  • Team leader: Manages the overall team and reports to the project manager. In smaller companies, the project manager may hold both roles
  • Team members: People with the skills needed to solve the problem, representing a diverse swath of the organization with the major impacted groups represented

For example, your project team may include a project manager, team leader, and representatives from marketing, sales, engineering, and HR. It could be much larger or smaller, depending on the scope, but be sure to include a representative from each group you have decided will be impacted by its outcome.

“There are so many different people you can collaborate with,” said Kristen McCrae, enablement and performance at Intuit. “The more that really play a pivotal role, the better.”

Determining the Project Scope

“As an understanding grows of what [the team] is capable of, there needs to also be an understanding of what the boundaries are,” said Sharon Little, senior director of GTM enablement at Amplitude.

Documenting scope helps keep your project track and prevent the dreaded “scope creep” that can draw projects to a halt, little-by-little. When you’re outlining project scope, be sure to differentiate it from the project purpose.

  • Project purpose: The general benefit to the organization
  • Project scope: Elements the project team can control and has agreed to deliver

One of the best ways to scope a project is by using a work breakdown structure, or WBS. An easy way to think about a work breakdown structure is as an outline of the specific project. It generally contains three to six levels of subdivided activities to plan budget, staffing, and all the major components required to complete the project. A work breakdown structure starts with the project as the top-level deliverable and is further decomposed into sub-deliverables.

To create a WBS, begin at the top:

  • List the major deliverables or high-level tasks from the scope statement
  • Use these deliverables as your headers under which subtasks will be organized
  • All deliverables on the scope of work (SOW) should appear on the WBS

Next, focus on tasks:

  • Name all the tasks required to produce deliverables
  • Break these down into lower-level, detailed tasks required to produce the product
  • Each group of related tasks is a workstream

Finally, get organized:

  • Rearrange the work in a way that makes sense for your organization, emphasizing different aspects of a project
  • Make sure the workstreams you’ve included are required—and that you haven’t left anything out

Performing a Project Premortem

Once you’ve written your project charter, established your team, and scoped your project, it’s time to do a premortem. It’s not uncommon for project managers to conduct project post-mortems after a project has been completed. An oft-overlooked step in the project upstart process is the premortem, performed after you understand the scope and before a project is officially kicked off.

Premortems are an effective way to identify risks at the beginning, instead of as they unfold. In the premortem exercise, ask stakeholders to assume a variety of risks and solve for them ahead of time, rather than waiting until they happen to troubleshoot.

“I think so often people go out, they collect information, and they go back to their team and they start doing without closing that gap to realign people to what solutions you’re recommending and getting agreement that those are the right things to be focused on,” said Jennifer Lopopolo, director of global sales enablement at Poly.

By solving risks ahead of time, you can eliminate many of the variables of the project and help it run smoothly.

Assessing risk

When assessing risk, you may have an idea of what may happen, but you can’t know for certain. This risk assessment formula is simple and helpful:

Impact x probability = actual risk

Translated, this formula asks the impact of each risk factor on the overall success of the project:

  • How serious could the impact be? A 5 (worst-case scenario), a 4 (relatively important impact), or a 2 (minimal impact)?
  • What is the probability of each risk factor? A 5 (a high likelihood it will happen), a 3 (50-50 chance it will happen), a 2 (it could happen), or a 1 (a slight possibility it could happen under unusual circumstances).

Creating a risk management plan

Once you understand your risk exposure, it’s time to create a risk management plan. You can TAME the risk in four ways:

  • Transfer the risk: Shift it to a third party.
  • Accept the risk: Acknowledge it and deal with it if it occurs.
  • Mitigate the risk: Reduce its probability or impact.
  • Eliminate the risk: Do what you can do to remove the risk—if it is reasonably possible.

Remember, risk is inevitable in any project. Being prepared with how you will respond to it is half the battle, and a well-documented risk management plan as part of your overall project plan will go a long way in keeping your project on time and on budget.

Often responsible for multiple large-scale projects that involve a variety of stakeholders, audiences, and partners from across the business, it is critical for sales enablement practitioners to be excellent at coordinating complex moving parts to deliver results. By starting with a solid project management plan in place from the beginning, sales enablement practitioners can ensure their projects stay on course throughout the entire process.