Never, ever underestimate the power of sentiment. This is especially true in situations where implementing change from a project management perspective is a key success factor. All of the recent hype (both fact and fiction) surrounding the iPhone 4 will serve as an excellent case study someday when all the facts are on the table and can be analyzed in a rear view mirror. Sentiment, you say? I will call on one specific definition of the word: a thought influenced by or proceeding from feeling or emotion. I can see the warning bells already – I don’t see any references to facts in the definition.
So, the overwhelming desire to own an iPhone 4 when it is launched is governed by sentiment – I just have to have one! Features, funtionality and facts take a back seat to the emotion of owning one before your neighbor. This aspect of sentiment is a marketer’s dream come true – demand exists, for the most part, without regard to feature and functionality which are implied or assumed. Enter a problem in the form of a potential design flaw or at least the perception of a design flaw which impacts the most critical aspect of why a smart phone exists in the first place – to make uninterrupted phone calls. The sentiment shifts and even loyalists whose previous tendencies were for blind following now push back and become disgruntled. A shift from positive sentiment based on track record but not specific facts (the iPhone 4 hadn’t been released yet) to negative sentiment based on the perception of an antenna problem that’s also not fact, or at least statistically validated. Steve Jobs himself attempted to show that any performance glitches were comparable to that of RIM and Nokia, but by that time the sentiment had changed and since it wasn’t fact based to begin with, the battle was lost.
A moral of the story. Pay attention to sentiment as well as fact when embarking on projects where change is involved (all projects?). Establish a factual base upon which to judge success and failure – this must be quantifiable and the methodology for such quantification agreed to by all consticuencies. Without a factual base, sentiment will rule the day; with a factual base, sound business decisions will be made, agreement will be easier to broker when the going gets tough, and in the end the right deliverables will be achieved.