Project: Failure

Project - Porażka

“If I learned something this year is that you have to love the path that you have chosen. Even if it is uncomfortable, rough, muddy – it is still ours. Even if sometimes you do not want to go any further. But then you close your eyes, clench your fists and you take another step. “

This is part of the summary that a writer from Kraków Hubert Fryc shared on his Facebook account. I do not know Hubert:D but I identify with this summary of the year … Yes! I could also sign under it. 2018 and 2019 was not easy for us as a Project: People. We have had many successes, but we also have had many difficult experiences. And today we would like to share them with you. So? Shall we start?

In order to provide you with the context of everything that happened in 2018, first let me give you a brief summary:) If you are looking for our failures in 2018 – scroll down to ‘Sprint falls’ >> I encourage you to read the whole to learn about their causes, as well as our ways to scale sales and our services.

A Year of Sprint

2018 was a year of sprint for us in many ways … Sprint which we love so much in regard to work on products, with customers, as a method of work, in respect of the company it has as many pros and cons. Rapid development is also a space to leave some various important things out.

Sprint in the development

Almost 3-fold growth in terms of revenue in 2018 speaks for itself.

As the startups in their job ads put it “a fast growing company looking for…”. Evidently 2018 is the year when we found a strong product/market fit, we caught the track and we were growing at a very high pace. So what were we looking for? First of all we were looking for:

  • experienced people who could join us. People who joined us in 2018 were persons with experience from other companies (eg. CMO from a creative agency, a person with experience from one of the largest Polish startups, etc.). We have grown from 5 people, with whom we closed 2017, up to 10 closing 2018. In the course of the year, only 1 person left us -which I personally consider to be a success.

  • Ways to transfer knowledge about our processes and working methods to new people in a lean way. In view of the fact that we are working is a quite specific way, the introduction of new people was associated with a lot of effort and time, but also with the risks associated with the introduction of new people to the project. We found the way (not without failures in the process, but more about this below), and soon we share it also in the form of product 😀 CC: @Joanna Ostafin @Grzegorz Górzyński @Katarzyna Golonka 🙂
  • Ways to scale sales in relation to a greater number of leads, but also longer sales process (large customers = longer processes), but without changing our sales process which is quite unique and hard to verify. And without increasing the number of customers – we want to carry out a limited number of projects per year – at this time, we decided that it will close in number of 40 customers. We are in the process of applying a way that was developed by us – we will share the experience soon:)
  • Ways to scale the Project: People – in view of the fact that we want to remain a small, boutique company (max 50 consultants around the world), and our specialization is lean consulting, it may seem that scaling options are quite scarce. During the year, the question regarding scaling was posed not only by investors who have come forward to us, but also from fellow strategists, or people that support us. We were also asking ourselves this question – not “If?” but “How?”:) We have found and we are testing 2 ways. Not only we are in the process of working on the opening of our office in Paris, but also we’re working on a product that will allow to massify lean consulting services. Stay tuned!
  • New Office 🙂 The office which we shared with CodeHeroes has become too small for our 2 teams (Maja and Maciek’s team was also expanding quickly) and 1 Conference Room – although very cool, turned out to be filled with meetings with customers, workshops etc. Our new office covers more than 300 m2, 3 conference rooms and lots of space to work, relax, etc.

Sprint in a settlement model

In 2018, about 50% of our customers settled and worked with us in the sprint model. Fast, dynamic work and easily visible, impressive results, it all led to an increase in the number of clients (both through recommendations and case studies in the form of articles and presentations at conferences), but also to a faster delivery of value to our customers, and thus to increase in their value. The average customer value has increased 2.5 times year-on-year. And the largest customer in 2018 represents up 70% of the revenue in 2017.

Sprint and Marathon

In 2018, the definition of what we were doing, our activities and the client profile also changed. From the beginning of Project: People, together with @Joanna we had a strong vision of the direction which we would like our team to develop in – strategic lean agency. At the same time, the construction of such a company is expensive and time consuming, and we did not want to use any form of external financing. That is why we assumed that it would take us 5 years to realize our vision.

Our bootstrapping assumed that our business profile would be subject to change: to be self-financing, we started off as a firmly executive company – with range from business cards to websites. We aimed our services at small and medium-sized companies, startups at the beginning of their path.

At the workshop summarizing 2017- we realized quite strongly that this was the breakthrough moment and we have become a consulting agency oriented at marketing and UX which allows us to build good products and businesses and promote them. We have determined a very precise persona of the client.

When we were closing 2018, no one of us had any doubt that lean consulting was our specialization. We are in the middle of the road (2.5 years behind us) and we are closing 2018 with 40% of executive projects and 60% of strategic projects. Among the top 10 of our customers, 80% is within our persona. The plan for this year? Anyone wants to guess? 🙂

Sprint falls

The end of the year and the beginning of 2019 were very intense for us. Closing projects, a major project of internal training, a lot of changes in the team, there also appeared new people, etc. At the end of the year, there appeared an afterthought – is it worth to grow so quickly? Is the rapid growth always related to positive things? Not necessarily!

< This part is for all those who want to find out what didn’t work out for us:) >

Failure in cooperation with customers

It is inevitable (unfortunately!) that if a company is growing so quickly, something will go wrong in cooperation with customers. It needs to happen once. For a long time, we managed to avoid such a situations – by focusing on communication with customers, mutual respect and matching solutions to our clients’ needs – which allowed us to solve any potentially conflict situation in a WIN-WIN manner. In 2017, we failed to complete one project which ended up in parting with the client. In 2018, we were faced with such situation twice:( When we analyzed these situations which forced us to do some after-thinking, we observed that:

  • Both cases concerned recommended clients.
  • Both cases concerned clients that expected executive services.
  • Both cases concerned clients not within our current persona.
  • Both cases concerned non-lean clients.
  • In both cases, we neglected communication with the client on our part.
  • Inboth cases, the sales process was very fast – we did not make sure that the customer understood exactly what they were buying and how we worked.
  • In both cases, the client was assigned persons for whom it was the first project in the Project: People.

With learned some good lessons from both of the situations:

  • We will not increase the number of customers, we want to devote the time and attention, take care of the communication. Currently, we are trying to have 1 person attending a project with 1, max 2 customers.
  • We focused very heavily on internal education, so that everyone in the team was well prepared to work with clients in both the issues of methodologies, tools and working methods, theory, but also from the side of our internal best practices and processes, and also the design experience.
  • We decided to slow down a little and devote a lot of attention to order internal processes.
  • We firmly focused on the refinement of the sales process. What does it mean? We have refined our offers which the client receives, so they would be clear, legible and describe how we work, as well as specify what the result our works id for the client. In addition, during the sales process, we educate extensively about our processes and work methods, we also make sure also if the client really wants to work in a lean way:)

Misguided recruitments …

…or actually one 🙂 In the beginning of 2019, we had to face a difficult parting with one of the people who worked with us. I do not know what failed us more: our intuition, or this collaboration. In any case, my guess is that it was not an easy process for either of the parties. Those of you who are watching Project: People know that we recruit relying on values very much. In the case of this recruitment, on our part and on the part of this person, there appeared doubts as to a match for the team and its values already in the course of the interview, but we were charmed by the vision of the experience that this person had, how this person could support our growth ( Oh wait! Did we actually need it?). Unfortunately, the reality turned out to be brutal, we were neither able to meet the expectations of this person, nor cooperation with this person met ours.

Lessons? Very painful…

  • Fitting to the culture of an organization and its values is more important than competence.
  • Personality type, extremely different from existing types in the team – might not work.
  • In our case, the key is to hire people who are focused on delivering value.
  • Individuals with strongly corporate backgrounds have already persisted hard mechanisms and it is difficult for them to break out of these patterns of thinking in spite of good intentions.

Team’s weariness

The end of the year was an intense sprint, all year round, it was a sprint. We closed the year with a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, with an ambitious plan for the following year. However, we were ghastly tired. That is why 2019 is the year

  • of marathon not sprint:) in terms of internal work,
  • slowdown – a little ordering in Project: People in processes – where it makes sense and where it has value,
  • investment in the team, to be even more aware of itself, its skills and to be able to work more effectively.

In the end, lean is based on continuous improvement:) And continuous improvement will be the watchword for this year for Project: People. We are not afraid of mistakes, we are not afraid of failure – they are natural and give us unforgettable lessons moving us forward.

And what lessons have you drawn from your defeats in 2018?

Post scriptum

I started 2019 on holiday – in the Canary Islands with my family, I summed up the time that was passing which also abounded in changes in my private life. In its course, I started to receive congratulations on LinkedIn and Facebook:) on the occasion of the third anniversary of Project: People.

I remembered as 3 years earlier – also on the Canary Islands, we designed our vision together with @Joanna Ostafin. Naturally, we have come to the full circle (Joanna was on holiday in the Canaries in November:D).

Exactly 3 years ago, we created a concept which now has very measurable dimension that has been transformed into a project of my life and Asia’s probably too:) (Asia will you bear with me?)

We still have enormity of work to do, probably we will need to face many defeats along the way, but also we have already achieved a number of successes and we still have many ahead:). I feel (we feel?:)) pride and joy that in so short time (2.5 years of real business) we were able to jointly build the team, this company and this brand 😀

I love the path that we have taken, though sometimes it is not easy. Although sometimes we clench our fists and we take another step:) What about you? What is your life project?

Beata Mosór-Szyszka

CEO, Project: People, Google Marketing & Product Mentor.
Lean marketer & strategist. | Linkedin

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Beata Mosór-Szyszka
Współzałożycielka i CEO w Project: People- strategicznej agencji specjalizującej się w metodach lean. Firma nie ma oferty - pracuje bezpośrednio na potrzebie/problemie, rozwiązując kluczowe trudności i wspierając realizację najważniejszych celów biznesowych klientów, by usprawnić działanie ich firm / projektów / marek. Beata jest autorką metody tworzenia kampanii marketingowych - Lean Marketing Sprint oraz narzędzia do pracy na wartościach - Values Poker. Jest również mentorem Google LaunchPad w obszarach Marketing i Produkt.

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