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Your Initiative May Have Failed Because…

The secret to success is not a recipe that you can follow. What it takes to obtain success in your projects and initiatives will vary so widely that you need both knowledge and experience to determine your best approach. That’s part of what we call “business acumen.” While the world puts forth certain ideas of “what’s best to do,” you must remember that these concepts are only guidelines with no guarantees. 

I hear a great deal from my network about projects that failed to get off the ground, failed to reach a beneficial conclusion, or didn’t even manage to conclude. In this article, I provide just a few things (and always a prime number of things, of course) to think about as you reflect on past initiatives.

1.  You created a PowerPoint for yourself…

You’ve been trained over the years to “float a deck” and “get buy-in,” so your first step was to create a wonderful PowerPoint presentation (hereafter referred to as PPT) explaining your initiative and all of its wonderful benefits. Unfortunately, the content of the PPT was made by you, for you, and for your convenience in trying to explain the material. It was not written for the person sitting across the table.

For example, if you are an HR person and you wrote your deck in “HR language,” you may wish to rethink your approach. No-one outside of HR speaks in terms of “competencies and behaviours.” If you’re an analytics person, remember that few people outside of your world speak in terms of regression, skewness, and heteroscedasticity…. and while you feel the need to explain all of the validation tests you ran in the interest of convincing people that your analysis is correct, no-one wants nor needs to hear it. If you’re an analytics pro with a good reputation, people will KNOW that you did your homework.

If you’re an engineer, keep in mind that few people will understand your discussions of GD&T and manufacturability. Only in Engineering can you place the image of a complicated drawing and all of its tolerancing onto a PPT slide and hold a conversation about it. I would love it; most people wouldn’t. Regardless of your specialty, stick with normal business language.

2.  It wasn’t practical…

Your presentation content was pie-in-the-sky and academic in nature. It spoke in terms of general benefits and information that you Googled on the internet. It spoke nothing of the specific and practical problems that you plan to solve for the company. What will your initiative REALLY accomplish? If you can’t answer that question, you may be embarking on a research project backed by company funds, i.e., your project can now be classified as “exploratory only” with no specific objectives.

Executives see hundreds of PPT presentations each year and every one of them can be a business case that looks great in theory. If you want to hurdle the first gate of a project, get specific and be prepared to hold yourself and your team accountable for the commitments you need to make. As a real example, I was once asked by a colleague to review a presentation he was about to make to several members of management. He was new to the company and I advised him that his PPT was theoretical and made no commitments of action and timing. He disregarded the feedback, gave his presentation as written and subsequently did not have a pleasant day.

3.  You told a story…

Especially in the analytics world, we hear much about the need to tell a story… and that usually comes with a PPT. That’s really a way of guiding analytics professionals to stop speaking about data facts and to stick with telling the audience what the data means or implies. However, sometimes telling a story will kill your plans quickly. 

Know your audience and know them well. Here’s why this is so important. While working for a large, global company, I knew the executive with whom I was about to speak, had a background primarily in Operations. Operations is a very fast-paced environment where people have no time to waste. For this executive, my very first sentence and very first PPT slide (if I even brought one) was my conclusion. In fact, the only time I brought a PPT to this gentleman’s office was if I needed to point to something. Other people who met with this executive tried to explain the path they took to reach their conclusions. They never made it past slide 2 of their PPTs.  So, know when to tell a story and when to get straight to the point.

In Summary…

Hopefully the above items have made you think. There is no recipe for successful initiatives, otherwise we would all have nothing but successful initiatives. Failure happens for many reasons and the skill you will gain as the years pass is the ability to judge which path to follow in order to maximize your chances of success. If you failed, then follow this simple recipe: pick yourself up, shrug your shoulders, dust yourself off and try again.


Tracey Smith is an internationally recognized analytics consultant, speaker and author. Tracey has worked with and advised organizations, both well-known and little-known, on how to use data analytics to impact the bottom line. Her career spans the areas of engineering, supply chain and human resources. If you would like to learn more, please visit  or contact Tracey Smith through LinkedIn. You can check out her books on her Amazon Author Page.