It’s Monday afternoon at the office. The week has only begun, but you’re already swimming in a sea of memos, spreadsheets and schedules. Just as you’re daydreaming about what leftovers you might reheat for a late dinner, your boss pokes his head into your office. He or she mutters something about quotas and deadlines before he or she drops the bomb about a “little project” he or she needs you to complete by the end of the week. And just like that, you know you’ve been handed a nightmare but for whatever reason accept the challenge.
According to the Cranfield School of Management in the Uk, 68% of Projects Are Destined for Failure Before They Even Start
What is a nightmare project? It’s something we’re all familiar with. The boss assigns us some vague task and a deadline but leaves the means to a solution up to our creative intellect.
So how do you solve the problem of this dreaded “little project”?
1. Understand the scope of the project
First things first, create a list to layout your ideas on how to go about the job at hand. Write out questions you might have that need to be answered, people you might need to work with or talk to in order to understand what work must be done.
Without fully understanding what work must be done, it is impossible to accurately estimate a project’s schedule or budget.
After creating a list, share your ideas with colleagues. Work with peers who have the same goal and share the same work ethics as you. Too often, when faced with a unrealistic project, we tend to work with just about anybody who wearily agrees to have their name on board. The enthusiasm of a new project quickly fades when actual work is needed. Instead of “How can I help?” we’re met with “I’m busy right now” and “Can it wait until next week?” The sponsor, project manager, and project team must share a common understanding of the projects scope.
2. Get estimates from the people who will be doing the work
To avoid the stress of friendly fatigue, create a solid plan of action with your co-workers. Assign duties and responsibilities and set a deadline for each task.
4. Re-estimate as soon as you realise an estimating assumption was wrong
Don’t get discouraged if people and other things fall through. Even though it’s frustrating with the broken promises, missed deadlines, mistakes and poor quality outputs. As soon as you realise a mistake was made, assess the impact and re-estimate the project.
Unfortunately When Project Managers Spend the Majority of Their Time Trying to Achieve the Unachievable, the Result Is Frustration and Potential Burnout
But say you’ve followed those steps and were able to remain positive throughout this gruelling week. You completed the assignment, whether enthusiastically or completely drained of all energy, only to be told the higher ups decided to go a different route and don’t need the results of your project after all. “Good effort, though,” your boss tells you as he or she hands back your laminated report.
If you find yourself in this situation, just remember to never say “yes” to a “little project with out first taking a look at what you’ve been handed.