You may have been here before. The point where your passion for a project sputters to a slow but sure death. You began in high spirits. Perhaps the idea was groundbreaking or it offered a chance to learn something new or develop yourself. So you gained early traction; achieved quick wins and everyone was pleased. You felt a rush of achievement and satisfaction. New iterations surged through your brain. Horizons expanded and you thought “Yes, we can do much more! We can grow bigger; break new ground”.
All of a sudden, you realise to your absolute amazement that you seem to be the only one left on your team with the same level of enthusiasm. Once active team mates have melted into the background of unavailability. Project sponsors have moved on to the next new thing. Resources have been rationalised and slowly your passion ebbs away with each new day.
If you’ve ever experienced this, I have a few lessons for you. They may not resuscitate your project but they’ll help you manage the next one better; help you believe again.
First, never become emotionally over-invested in a project. It’s about the cause, not your effort or your personal feelings. As a project manager, you must imagine yourself as a tool. You’re only as important as the relative importance of the project to the organisation that owns it. Therefore, don’t get too comfortable or take things personal. Your primary purpose is to execute defined objectives. When those objectives change, move on to secondary objectives.
Your secondary objectives on any project are to gain experience, learn something new and meet great people. These will prove useful in future. Everything you invest in a project is valuable experience. As a project manager, you stand a lot to gain from every project. When organisational priorities change, don’t insist on keeping your project in its exact form. Be flexible. Understand the new strategic goals and adjust accordingly. No project deliverable is sacrosanct. Remember, your project is only as relevant as the evolving strategy of the organisation.
Maintain an active relationship with your project sponsor. Gain feedback from key stakeholders. They’ll let you know what’s really going on. Don’t carry the burden of slacking team mates. If there’s no capacity to execute the project, admit it early on and inform the project sponsor. Remember the golden rule of projects: A project is only as valuable to an organisation as the amount of resources dedicated to it. Also identify a confidential sounding board; someone to help you vent or rant. Trust me, you’ll feel better afterwards.
Document everything – Successes, failures, why the project stalled, recommendations etc. And if your project consistently lacks organisational support, minimise the resources and effort attached to it until it becomes a priority again. Avoid waste. Don’t outrun the organisation’s appetite for execution. Match your effort and ideas to what the organisation has the capacity or vision to absorb, understand and execute. To test the organisation’s commitment to a project, set clear conditions & dependencies. If the conditions are not met, you have your answer. Sometimes your organisation may require external validation before they fully commit to a project. Be patient.
Termination is the last resort when it has been clearly communicated to you that a project is no longer priority. If you insist on seeing the project through, rekindle your passion by remembering that the project is about a bigger or long-term cause that goes beyond immediate imperatives. Think about the potential success and your role in it. Imagine your contributions to laying a strong foundation and be content.
I hope this has been useful. I’d like to know what challenges you’re currently facing on your project. Are you losing your passion? Why? Please share with me on Twitter @subomiplumptre.