Common pitfalls and key success factors of digital / data projects in 2021 H1


Takeaways from past 6 months of projects

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・Opening Comments
・Common pitfalls
・Key success factors
・Closing: H2 focus
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Opening comments
From the outset, I’ve been extremely lucky & grateful to be able to work with many clients and great talent on meaningful projects, during these uncertain times.

Especially these 2 points stand out:

Building trust
Over the past several months I’ve realized how deep and vital “building trust” is in a client relationship, whether it be external trust represented by leadership in a large project or internal trust — knowing the other project members are doing their best with limited time & resources at hand, therefore giving them the benefit of the doubt.

No project will succeed without both these levels of trust;
without proper leadership a project will quickly turn into a nightmare,
without trust among project members a project can become dysfunctional.

Building stuff!
I’ve also been fortunate to have actually built services, functionalities, capabilities, teams. There are many projects out there that go on for years without ever launching anything tangible, just a bunch of MVPs.
The past several months has been an onslaught of deployment, tests, actions and have learned much more post deployment vs prep.

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Now, moving onto the actual common pitfalls and key success factors.

Common pitfalls:
・great idea, wrong timing
・failing to invest in great talent
・lacking blueprint

Great idea, wrong timing
So the saying goes “close only counts in grenades”, which has never been so true.
We are in abundance of great ideas implemented too early, too late.
If we peek into the world of crypto, even a few hours difference can lead to 30% drops / gains in prices, dictating that even a great idea with slightly the wrong timing, is just plain wrong.

“When” we do something has become as important as “what” or “how”.

& timing is very tactical, think “technical trading analysis”.
Those on the ground may understand this better in terms of trends & real-time metrics, but during these uncertain times with the pandemic, for instance the valuation of companies can change depending on which months are included in the model / how much is discounted in relation to drop / gains from the pandemic.

Failing to invest in great talent
Acquiring great talent is vital, but difficult to find.
It used to be that great talent accomplished many manpower worth of work(think “multiples”), but in this age of fast growth great talent expedites learning curves and drives “exponential” outcomes.
It is the role of management to invest in great talent, to provide environments that can house these talent, changing traditional HR policies around recruiting, compensation, and the focus on “fairness”.

Striving for a fair working environment will only lead to mediocracy and failure in the current age, as competence does not come equally.

Need I say more.

Lacking blueprint
A lot of teams are able to articulate where they are, or what they’ve done. What is not as common is the ability to draw up a blueprint of where they should be, the ideal state, and then draw phased plans to get to where they should be to be. Let’s learn how to walk before we run marathons.
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Now on the flip-side let’s take a look at the key success factors
(basically the opposites to the above)

key success factors:
・being SMART
・focus on great talent
・fail fast, succeed fast
・ideal state incremental evolution

Management usually wants a lot more done, with the current resources, some time soon, with ideal results; but let’s be SMART and prioritize.
SMART — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound
& prioritization is the focus on timing, i.e. — when we do XYZ (not ABC), with 1234 expected to happen by 5678.

Slice, a US local pizza restaurant DX company, decided it’s Series C in March-April 2020, amidst all uncertainties to be on the “offense”, leading to significant growth over the past year.

Focus on great talent
Digital marketers go from $30k to $300k/annual in Japan, and most of the time you get what you pay for. Compromising and hiring the mediocre for $100–150k is taking on risk much larger than just salary, relative to the amount of upside that can be fully acquired from your marketing budget (which I am assuming for my audience is much larger than $100–150k)

Fail fast, succeed fast
Live testing hypotheses is the surest way to improve upon the quality. Discussing hypothesis and analyzing benchmarks in a closed room are quite good and well for a strategy project, but always stumped by real-life deployment.

Tim Ferris famously AB tested titles of book “4-hour work week”, which became a 4-year NYT best-seller. There are publishing companies that “sell” numerous books on Amazon, and only after gauging order volume they actually start writing books which had highest order volume, turning the whole publishing process on its head.

To fully empower organizations to focus on live testing, mission-based multi-capable squads are the new org norm.

Ideal state incremental evolution
Change management takes time, if we think about going to the gym there are almost no physical change for the first 2–3 weeks, but then we start to feel different, and then we start see improvement after about a 1month or so. A good personal trainer will plan for the incremental evolution of your body, to close the gap between as is and ideal state.

Organizations are the same, they need to be in constant affirmation of the change they are undergoing, to keep their eye on the ball, and after 9–12 months everything changes.

In essence, we as consultants and digital experts need to be personal trainers for client companies.

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Closing: H2 focus
I started this year with 3 ongoing projects, which then increased to 4, then 5, then 6 for a total of 8 projects(excluding short-term advisory), with average project length of 5 months.

As you can easily imagine, there were times I was not fully satisfied with the quality of my work, therefore H2 will focus on the quality of work — meaning fewer projects.

[2021 projects so far]
-new content subscription service building (ideation, strategy, monetization, P/L simulation, communication) for a media company
-digital marketing assessment and UX personalization for a digital transformation project — luxury furniture (B2C & B2B2C)
-CRM planning and execution support for a digital transformation project — cram school
-data marketing project management and research for a data science company — luxury fragrance
-product strategy & product positioning for a B2B marketing attribution vendor
-due diligence project digital marketing assessment for an investment firm (via a consulting firm)
-due diligence project E-commerce channel growth & cost assessment for an investment fund (via a consulting firm)
-data maturity assessment for an e-commerce player (with a data consulting firm)

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Jo — Inazuma Digital founder, consultant & digital marketing expert



Jo Matsumoto - Inazuma Digital founder, consultant

Driving real-world impact via digital marketing and digital business building.