Avoiding Project Pitfalls

How can we keep our work from going off the rails?

I’ve been thinking about what a difference it makes when what we do feels valuable. The project might have been challenging, we put in lots of time, but the feeling is of excitement and accomplishment. We’re energized by our work, not tired out by it.

On the other hand, I’m sure you know that sinking sensation when a project that had great promise goes off the rails. One too many compromises, and we know this one won’t be top-notch, as it could have.

Where does it go wrong?

While every disappointment has its own recipe, there are predictable ways that, even though we want to bring value to a project, we can end up slashing the tires instead.


Unclear or too many strategies

Sometimes project goals never coalesce into a clear and executable form. What are two concrete goals this should accomplish? Who are three different site visitors we need to give a one-click answer for?

Sometimes too many needs are bundled into a project. While each one might have value, no project could do it all successfully, so we get a watered-down, energy-sapping result. Blech.

Moving too fast

Projects have to happen quickly, but failing to first take the big picture into account is a huge mistake. What are we building? What’s the need this will meet? Racing off to make a project happen right away can mean we build something that addresses one goal, but fails to target the big opportunity.

Moving too slow

Business needs change, and when we don’t get projects done in a reasonable time, the goals shift over time, and suddenly we’ve got mission creep. The mermaid made sense in the original approach, but now she’s competing with a talking cat. Or something like that. Also, it costs a lot to have the team get back to speed on a project every two months, only to have another delay.

Failure of nerve

Great projects require courage. Many times over the years I’ve been on teams sure they wanted something “cutting edge” and different, only to retreat when confronted with what that might look like.

So how do we get it right?

Every project is different, but in thinking about disasters vs projects that really created value, a few things emerge. Successful projects:

  • Clearly define their goals.
  • Take time to be sure they get the big picture.
  • Move fast enough so they’re not obsolete before they’re finished.
  • Courageously take a point of view that differentiates them and lets them be excellent.

I’d love to live in a world where more of our projects go like this, wouldn’t you?

By David Kerr | Filed Under: Strategy

David Kerr Design