Don’t you just LOVE a good project? I do. Whether you are restoring a car, updating the decor in your home, or installing the latest enterprise software in your organization, there is an emotional high that comes with starting something new. In fact for some of us, creating a vision, imagining the possibilities and the ultimate result is a lot more fun than actually doing the work it takes to complete the project.
Still not with me? Why do you think it’s more popular to JOIN the local gym in January than to exercise every month of the year? The idea of starting is more fun that than the doing!
Much of our career and personal lives is spent working on “projects.” We may not call them such but that’s what they are. Projects include filing your own taxes, preparing the report for the next Board meeting, planting the new flower bed out back and configuring the servers for the next website deployment. Generally speaking, a project is a specified body of work over a set period of time with certain constraints.
Projects have a life cycle, they have a start date; they have an end date. I like to think of a project like a journey to a destination. On any good journey it’s important to pay attention to the caution signs as you travel.
To limit your risk of not arriving at your destination, here are 3 things to watch for.
Failure to Launch It sounds obvious when you say it but the best way to kill a project is to be sure it never starts! As a part of our human condition, we are driven toward complexity and perfection. Combining the two spells disaster for even the most admirable projects. There is no perfect solution, no perfect project, no perfect vendor, no perfect software. Yet how much time and money have we invested (or wasted) trying to get it perfect?
The remedy for this malady is what I call “Implement and Improve”. A former colleague referred to it as “just launch.” The idea here is to avoid your perfectionistic tendencies and just launch the darn project! Implement it first THEN work to improve it. As the saying goes, “if you wait until you feel ready to have a baby, you never will.”
Don’t Define the Work Even if you get your project started, you are still destined for pain if the work is poorly defined. What does it mean to define the work? This is making sure the entire project team is very clear on what tasks must get accomplished, who is responsible to accomplish them, how and when they are planned to be accomplished.
Unless you have agreed to a more agile approach to your project, this must be done before you get started. And even if you are defining the work as you go, it is still essential that the project team and stakeholders understand the objectives and how and when their work will be performed.
Creating, maintaining and communicating a clear project plan will take you a long way down the road toward project success.
Protect the Status Quo Projects are almost always about CHANGE. We start projects to do things like create, destroy, update, expand, shrink. These all require that something about the current state of things be changed; and change is always resisted. Remember that project of cleaning out the attic?
What happened when you started to trash some of the relics in there? Rebellion! “Hey, you can’t throw THOSE away, I’ve had that since high school.” What about when you rolled out new desktop software that was guaranteed to improve your staff’s productivity? “I liked the old software better, this one is so much slower.” Is it truly slower, or are we just slow to adapt to change? The latter is more often the case.
While there are more than 3 ways to kill a project, these are 3 big project killers. Avoid these and you have a chance. Ignore the caution signs at your own risk.