How to define deliverables

February 1st, 2021 by Colin Buckingham

Reading Time: 6 minutes

#2 in our blog series on how to deliver a strategic insight programme

At Rainmakers, we help our clients to decide on their next move. This series of blogs aims to set out the most important stages for developing a strategic brief.

How to define deliverables
A structured guide to help insight and strategy professionals get maximum impact for their work and their organisation.

At Rainmakers CSI, we help our clients decide on their next move. This series of blogs aims to set out the most important stages for developing a strategic insight programme. Here we look at how to define deliverables that will inspire action.

“I’ve never liked the word ‘deliverables’. It’s a rather clunky and uninspiring term. But thinking clearly, practically, and yes, a little bit creatively about how to inspire others to act on what you have learned is the most important thing you do as an insight professional.”

Colin Buckingham, CEO Rainmakers CSI

You’ve got your strategic brief spot on (see blog #1) and so as well as having a clear vision of what the end goal is, you are also pleased to be working with consultants who have demonstrated that they really understand your business, your category and your challenges. You know what decisions need to be taken and how this work fits into achieving your overall strategy. Now you can start to think in more detail about how you’re going to deliver the programme to your colleagues.

There’s no one size fits all when it comes to deliverables. Every organisation is different, and the most impactful deliverables take into consideration many different factors – the audience, the culture of the business and on a more practical level, the time you have to deliver. Here are our thoughts on what you should consider in order to create and deliver work that has an immediate and lasting impact on your business.

1. Get your stakeholders involved
The first thing is to make sure you really understand what your stakeholders need in terms of outputs. This can be achieved by conducting interviews with them individually, or by hosting a results-focussed kick-off session with all the relevant players present. During these interactions, you should be thinking about the end game from the start and it’s therefore vital that your agenda covers areas such as how the outputs from this insight programme will be used, the story it needs to tell and whether there are any cultural nuances that you need to be aware of – such as their preferred formats for delivery or the time you will have to present findings back to the team, for example. The objective here is to understand exactly what your stakeholders need so that you can start planning the execution. Because this stage is so important to get right, make sure that even if you have not been able to talk to all your stakeholders at the briefing stage, they are thoroughly involved at the project kick-off.

2. Focus on the desired outcome
We make no apologies for emphasising yet again that before you get into discussing the outputs, you need to be crystal clear about the result you want to get from your insight programme. What is the end decision to be taken by the business and how does this work fit into it? So, reference the brief and work backwards from the desired result to define what your deliverables should be.

For example, you may not actually want the project output to take the audience straight to the ‘answer’. Sometimes it can be more powerful to create the stimulus for an internal work session that allows your management team to engage fully with the insights and combine new learnings with their own perspectives to work their way to the best solution. That might mean an intelligent, provocative briefing pack which concludes by mapping out the options.

Or, you could be looking for a definitive ‘this is the answer, this is what you must do’ report, which doesn’t need to elicit interaction from recipients but clearly supports a decision.

If you need the project to provide direct input to your strategic plan or to help support an investment case, a crucial part of any ‘deliverable’ could well involve the completion of an internal pro forma supported at every stage by key metrics and some persuasive copy based around incontrovertible evidence from the research. It’s also helpful to try to nail the principles behind the key frameworks at the start. It can be difficult to be precise with these until you actually have some data – as in most aspects of life, making things up is generally harder than telling the truth. But, for example, for a segmentation study you can think well in advance about the key success criteria. Does each segment have to have a minimum size? Do you want to try to limit the number of targets to, say, three or four, to make it easier to work with? Is the approach likely to be based on attitudes or needs, or firmly grounded in behaviour? Thinking these things through well in advance can help drive a successful outcome.

3. Think broadly
While ensuring you have the detail right, it’s important to think broadly about what you can deliver. You should expect your insight partner to consider a wide range of deliverables and then work with you to clarify what should be in and out of scope. For major programmes, we typically find that fusing a variety of approaches works best, with different materials playing specific roles in our ‘campaign’ to get our messages understood and acted upon.

Videos or animatics can often have a great impact, especially in kicking off a workshop and then subsequently launching a thousand internal meetings, but they rarely tell the whole story. Infographics can capture things like shopper journeys or decision processes brilliantly, and again provide material which lives on within the organisation.

We regularly use GameBoards to map market opportunities and pinpoint growth opportunities. If you get these right, they become part of the strategic fabric of the business, and they are worth every moment of the effort required to get their design, ordering (what goes next to what) and content exactly right.

It’s standard practice for a PowerPoint style report to form the heart of the output, but don’t be afraid to use spread sheets and other data manipulation tools. Some users may need to play with the data themselves to feel comfortable with the decisions they’re making. And if Finance needs its pro forma completed for the recommendations to be implemented, make the Finance pro forma part of the suite of deliverables. As always, look to your partner for evidence that they are able to deliver against all your various requirements – preferably before they become your partner!

4. Clarify your communication culture
Every organisation has a distinct culture, one that permeates how it communicates internally. Make sure you have reviewed what has worked well in the past and which types of deliverables have made the most impact within your company. What are people still talking about months – or years – later? Think about the style, visuals, and language used by your organisation – your tone of voice. Some companies want a very formal delivery, others like a more informal, narrative approach. There are companies which claim a strong aversion to ‘data dumps’ and getting ‘buried in numbers’ and there are many who won’t take a step forwards (or backwards) without detailed and rigorous financial evidence.

Think about how visual, or otherwise, your organisation is. Will a simple infographic go viral in your company or be dismissed as superficial?

If you are able to, provide your insight partner with guidance on the way your company communicates and your tone of voice before they start preparing any deliverables – it will save you a great deal of time in the long run.

5. Define your audience
Determining deliverables is like any communications challenge – it’s vital to define and understand your audience. You want to know how to influence them. And you want to know how you’re going to reach out to them (it could be in an invited meeting, but it could also be on email or in a five-minute catch-up call). Often, there is a single senior decision maker who needs to be swayed on a decision that they’re about to make. Knowing who that is and how best to connect with them is going to be key. Expect to design different deliverables for different audiences to have maximum impact.

6. Timing
Timing is another critical factor that needs to be considered in advance. Are you working towards a specific meeting, goal or a deadline, or is there a wider set of strategic initiatives that the work will feed into over a longer period? If the former, then don’t forget to tell your consultants! It’s all too easy to roll along with a project while forgetting to mention a huge looming deadline until it’s too late.

And remember timing also applies to the creation of deliverables; even if it has to be very succinct in terms of a paragraph for a company report or a five-page management summary, it needs time. We all know the Mark Twain quote “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead” – the tighter the deliverable, the more time needs to be spent on it. Which is not to say you can’t ask your consultants to work quickly – but just bear in mind the time needed to get things really tight.

It’s easy to suggest that a major strategic project must be delivered effectively into the organisation, but getting your mind around exactly how this might be achieved is less straightforward. We find that thinking as early as possible about the elements we have described here is extremely helpful, and it’s actually not that difficult once you break the task down.

And it makes a huge difference. Everything that you put in upfront will yield huge dividends in terms of impact. Find the time to get the planning of your deliverables right and you will reap rich rewards.

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