Navigate your next project like a boss.
February 23, 2021
Ah, the perilous tale of…YOUR NEXT PROJECT. Each one offers a different storyline and the chronicles from clients and agencies alike read more like chilling horror stories than ones of epic success. So, let’s dive in and peel back the layers, orient for better outcomes and find our footing in the narrative.
Projects come in all shapes and sizes, but their structure can best be described as a three-act play. Act 1 starts with excitement and energy, as we embark on our heroic journey. Everything is new, the air is filled with anticipation and hope springs eternal. In Act 3, the hero conquers, celebrates the conquest and reaps the rewards. It’s that messy middle of Act 2 that most of us long to skip past, as it contains a myriad of challenges—false starts, shit storms, internal politics roulette, dead ends, bias confirmations and poor performance (just to name a few). Encountering these roadblocks would unnerve even the most unflappable of us, but it’s also non-negotiable in the story arc. You must traverse the terrain and its obstacles to obtain anything worth achieving. Paradoxically, it’s also where all the good stuff happens. Fears are faced, patience is taxed but the rewards will be plentiful. So, here are some tips for how you can ready yourself for even the messiest of middles and ensure you bring your project to a successful “The End.”
Conduct a pre-mortem.
Before you tread into Act 2, steady your nerve and resolve, but more importantly conduct a pre-mortem. Take the time to document without the charged emotion you’ll experience during the project. Consider the landscape, people and politics. Identify the scenarios and intersections where you anticipate obstacles. As the Stoics would say, “The Obstacle is the Way,” but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think about them preemptively. You’ll get some problems correct, overreact on others or even miss a few big ones lurking in your blind spot, but none the less it prepares the mind for what lies ahead.
It’s vital to remember that experience doesn’t give us easy passage through struggle. Everything in our experience will help guide our thinking, but the pitfalls and obstacles will be new and require unique approaches to solve. The other most significant flip in thinking will be to accept the concept of being invigorated by uncertainty. Lean in to the unknown and embrace constraints. Give them both a bear hug, because they are now your new best friends.
Context is king.
Context is your navigation during your journey and the most significant factor that dictates what decisions you make. Also, don’t be precious about the decision. Some may feel like lateral moves or even going backwards. I prefer to think about it as the “next best step,” because inertia will kill progress. You may need a combination of actions or activities to overcome the largest hurdles, so choose your moves wisely.
Support your Act 2 cast.
Getting through Act 2 is a team effort, and you don’t always get to handpick your cast. Empower your conquerors—those who have shown the ability to eat beastly problems one bite at a time with deliberate, calculated moves. Challenge the team to play with the problem independently of you. Not only is it an opportunity to generate great outcomes, it also has the added bonus of bonding the team. Your bandits will come prepared to beg (forgiveness rather instead of permission), borrow (draft off of the slightest win) and steal (assumptive close when they are anywhere close to yes) their way to success. And though weak links exist in every team dynamic, try to find ways to rally together, and encourage them to create value and elevate their peers.
Use friction to your advantage.
It’s only human to protectively avoid friction and conflict, but it’s also inevitable that you’ll encounter it. Knowing that it’s part of the process, you’ll need to get comfortable in the uncomfortable. It’s okay to respectfully disagree, hash out differences and still be considered collaborative. Friction creates sparks but doesn’t always lead to raging blazes—it allows you to move on and build resilience for the future. The best-case scenario is to cycle through it efficiently and as elegantly as possible. Don’t die on any hill or problem that isn’t worth it. Disagree and commit as often as is necessary to maintain progress above all else.
Be bold—and don’t let the bullshit get you down.
Really, fortune favors those who calculate risk and reward, and make bold moves when appropriate. There’s little to no guarantee but be prone to action over inaction. Outcomes are owned by those who come to the project with grit, vim and vigor. Stay the course, but don’t follow the course blindly. You’ll encounter trials and tribulations, get turned upside down and inside out, but keep your eye on the horizon. Fortify your temperament throughout the project—remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Last but not least, keep in mind that leaders play the long game and don’t rely on everyone always understanding your vision or agreeing on your ideal outcome. When the curtain closes on Act 3, everyone will be more than fine basking in the glow of conquering the project.
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