Autism Speaks 24-Hour T-Shirt Sale on

For our charity event, our team decided to partner with the web-based business to do a one day t-shirt sale, with $3 of every $10 shirt sale going to Autism Speaks.  Ript Apparel’s business model is that they sell a different shirt every day, and the shirt is only available for 24 hours then it will never be available again.  Independent artists are able to submit their designs to Ript Apparel, who have the final decision on which shirts go on sale.  If their design is selected, the artists are paid $1 for each shirt sold.  Additionally, Ript Apparel doesn’t print the t-shirts until they are ordered, so they are never stuck with excess inventory.

The advantages of our project were that the website and infrastructure were already in place, and that Ript Apparel already has an existing customer base and a mailing list of around 12,000 people to whom they can send an e-mail blast when needed.  For our team, that meant that the major tasks we needed to focus on were creating the t-shirt design, negotiating a donation percentage with Ript Apparel and the artist, and doing additional marketing activities to drive sales.  We also created a link from the Ript Apparel website to a direct donations page we created, to give customers the opportunity to make a more sizable donation.

At the outset, our team was projecting to raise $1,450 for our charity, with $2,900 being the high and $675 being the low.  Our final total raised was $1,027.  Coming in under our projection was disappointing, but we faced some unexpected adversity the day of the sale, when there was a revolt on our message board with people speaking out against our charity and encouraging people not to buy the t-shirt.  Among others, there was a post that compared Autism Speaks to a well-know hate group, and another that made it a point to describe them as an evil organization.  Since the sale was only for one day, it was difficult for us to counteract this and develop any positive PR.  Considering the unexpected circumstances, we feel that the amount we raised from our project was ultimately a success.  The project was also successful as a learning experience, as the team faced numerous obstacles and schedule changes over the 2 months and learned to adapt on the fly, applying some of the concepts we learned in class to help us.

For teams doing this project in the future, some advice would be to keep the project simple, especially if you are doing it in the summer where you only have 6 weeks to accomplish everything. Another word of advice is to keep the team size small.  We ran into some difficulties with communication between five people, and imagine it would be worse with additional team members.  Finally, choose your charity carefully. There are a ton of controversial charities out there, and by picking a neutral charity you can avoid some of the backlash that our team experienced on the website.

One lesson that the team learned is to consider the public’s perception of a project. Even if you think you are doing the right thing, seeing it through the lens of an outsider could reveal some problems that you don’t see internally. Another lesson is to clearly define roles at the beginning of the project, and have one person take the lead rather than everyone trying to contribute equally. Finally, consider all the possible risks, not just those that are likely to occur, and have a contingency plan for all of them.

The Work Has Been Done. Let’s Roll It Out.

I have worked on projects with long timelines, and they’ve concluded with the rollout of the main deliverable, which is usually a system or a process.  My expertise is in Supply Chain Management, but most of my projects have an emphasis on IT.  I was interested when I found the article The Rollout Phase of the IT Project ( by Iman Budi Setiawan.

The author focused on 4 main steps of successfully rolling out an IT project:

1. Identify the Inputs (includes installation and user instructions)

2. Conduct Key Activities (includes the actual IT conversion to the new system)

3. Create the Outputs

4. Meet the Milestone

These steps align with my experience, and there are two main points worth discussing.  First, the rollout of the system occurs at the end of the process, but the planning for the rollout should be running concurrently with the rest of the project.  Secondly, I think Create the Outputs is the most critical step in ensuring a successful project.

If a project team thinks they can get to the end of the project and accomplish these four steps in a short amount of time, they are setting themselves up for failure.  It is important to train end-users near the rollout date to make sure end-users experience a near-complete version of the system, but work must be done several weeks in advance to prepare training documents, arrange travel plans, and orchestrate the training.  More importantly, Identify the Inputs requires the identification of hardware needed for the conversion, which, in many cases, is identified during the initial selection of the project to understand investments needed to implement the solution.

Most projects have a time constraint, and the final step in these projects is a variation of a go-live or rollout step.  An important point, in my opinion, is that the rollout of the system itself or the flip of the switch to turn the system on should not be in and of itself considered a successful completion of the project even if all training has been conducted and you have full end-user buy-in.  While working on a project, the project team does its best to identify any potential needs and mitigate risks, but it is inevitable that some improvements and adjustments will need to be made after the rollout once many more people are working with the new system.  This is addressed by the Create the Outputs step.  Because these changes are difficult to identify, it is also difficult to understand the amount of time and resources that may be required to address them.  If the project team or IT resources are reallocated too quickly after the conversion, the key change requests that come out of the issues will not be addressed in timely manner, which could lead to the system being ineffective and a failure.

Does anyone disagree with opinion on these steps after reading the article?  Can anyone relate how this is like or unlike implementations not involving IT?

Project Already in Progress

We’ve spent significant time discussing project proposals, project selection, project management tradeoffs (scope, cost, and time), and, to a limited degree, team selection.  Ideally, a project manager would have input into these aspects before leading a project.   However, that isn’t always the case.  I’ve been fortunate in my career to participate in and lead several significant projects, but I want to talk about one of my career’s biggest challenges.  I joined a company and assumed the role of project manager for a project that had been in progress for several months.  My new company was also in an industry that was outside of my expertise.

The specific challenges I faced were budget constraints, time constraints, and project resources that I inherited.  Because I was in a new industry, I was also speaking a different language when it came to products, processes, and jargon.  These were unfortunate circumstances, but they were no excuse for project failure.  I needed to make sure the project was successful, and I quickly learned two key lessons:   rely on the expertise of your team members and focus on your project management skills and relevant experience.

The first thing I realized was that I had let myself get bogged down in the details in the past.  It would‘ve been beneficial to have a great understanding of the business and products, but, in the past, I could lose focus of driving the overall project.  In my new situation, it was almost impossible for me to micromanage because I simply didn’t have the specific knowledge to do so.  This kept me focused on the overall project in terms of facilitating discussions, assigning tasks, and meeting deadlines.  The project team members were very bright and had a significant amount of experience in the industry, and the consultants on the project were capable of providing guidance in terms of best practices.  Letting go a little bit to let the experts focus on the best solutions was a big step for me, and it helped reach optimal solutions and helped the project progress according to the timeline.

Because I didn’t have industry knowledge, I needed to focus on my project management skills and applicable experience.  As I said above, I began to focus on the big picture and on ensuring that my team members knew what was expected of them in terms of deliverables and timelines.  I also focused on my experience of working with and implementing supply chain systems and processes.  I made up for my lack of experience in the specific industry with my significant experience in demand planning and operations.  Even though I could not provide a lot of insight regarding the specific products, I knew what it would take to build a collaborative relationship between the sales and supply chain planning teams to improve our inventory turns and fill rates and to complete a successful project.

I am curious if anyone else has had a similar experience and whether you share my views or have had different takeaways.