Reaching for the stars – project success pointers from Virgin Galactic

This article features recent news events to illustrate key project factors and to discuss how they contribute to success or failure. In addition, some thoughts on hybrid working models and a great tech solution I experienced during a recent hybrid meeting.

Photo credit: Jason Hogan at Unsplash

Is it time to embrace flexible working and hybrid models or to risk losing your team members?
The New York Times recently reported that working from home is a perk employers are offering to entice top talent to their firms. Not extra vacation. Not a BMW. Not a sign-on bonus. But the freedom to work from flexible locations. In a survey I performed in November 2020 many Medical Information team members also said they enjoyed working from home, at least some of the time. I think the mix is key. Working from home for certain activities and being collocated with your team members where you need the team. For example, when you are doing a workshop. Benefits of being able to work from home on certain tasks included: using commute time for other activities, meditation, sports, reading, yoga etc. Having a quiet work environment. Flexibility to interweave life chores and work tasks to the benefit of both areas. Being more on task than in a busy office. Pharma companies hire skilled and passionate employees. They are motivated and educated. Is now the time to ask whether what they do is more important than where it is done? Pre-pandemic models may not fit a post-pandemic or inter-pandemic world. Maybe fully at home is not a good option? Maybe fully in the office is not a good option? And preferences vary by task and individual. Whatever we believe, I think, now is time to assess what makes teams most productive. What we learned in the past 1.5 years, And how to make the most of those learnings when identifying how we move ahead and whether a hybrid approach is the best for teams.

Predicting failure: what the building collapse in Florida teaches us about addressing critical issues
Projects can fail in many ways. Key challenges are prioritization and communication. The tragic collapse of the apartment building in Florida illustrates this point. Structural weaknesses were documented in an assessment a few years ago. However, the fact that the building was at risk of imminent collapse was not communicated. Timelines were not set. When the problem was finally addressed it was too late. If you identify a critical issue in your organisation, you need to do two things: Identify the business risk and critical timelines. Then prioritize the activity relative to other critical issues. Communicate the business case to senior stakeholders. Design an approach, validate and execute. If you decide not to act, do so consciously, after weighing all aspects of the situation.

Flying high – Virgin Galactic – slow and steady wins the race. Why slower is almost always faster.
An ex-boss used to call me Patience Constance. This was a long time ago. The moment I saw a solution, I desired to see it implemented. Fast. Unfortunately, many executives share this characteristic. Project outcomes are often linked to year end targets. Maximum speed is often the only speed a project can be performed at. Unfortunately, even with excellent planning, speed is too often the enemy of high-quality outcomes.
Recently Richard Branson made it to space in his own planes.Almost 14 years after he thought he would be space-bound. He founded Virgin Galactic in 2004. He thought commercial flights it would take 2-4 years to be viable. I am confident that Richard Branson is not a patient man. But, the project took the time it took. I would guess, that there was pressure on the teams to deliver. But the understanding that complex projects take time. I am not advocating that you wait 17 years to implement projects with your teams. That said, realistically assessing your companies needs and planning your project and implementing accordingly is the only way to success. In space flight and in simpler organisation wide solutions. In medicine and space travel it is about life and death. In companies, it is about engagement, enthusiasm, motivation, and wise resource management.

How tech helps to make your hybrid meetings work – models to implement going forward.
All virtual or all physical meetings are easy to manage. Hybrid meetings, are often more challenging. A recent hybrid meeting that I moderated recently went well due to the tech the organisers put in place. I anticipate we will be doing many more of these going forward so I am sharing the approach with you.

  • each person in the room has a microphone. Only one microphone can be active at one time.
  • a camera shows the entire room to participants who are off-site.
  • off-site participants are shown on a single large screen at the front of the room.

This set-up means that participants who are off-site get a physical sense of the room. And the off-site participants have great sound quality regardless of who is speaking. As only one microphone is on at any given time, it is impossible to talk over people. With a central conference phone this is never the case. I ran a change management workshop recently. All participants, both those in the room, and those dialling in, felt heard. The sound quality was excellent, the exchange was great. And most importantly after an 8-hour workshop we were not exhausted. I highly recommend investing in this type of technology for any team that works regularly with international teams in hybrid calls.