I often feel that I am good at starting things and not so good at finishing them. It tuns out to be a very bad habit because when you don’t finish things your mind hangs in there. You never get over with that stuff. And the project you started with great zeal and zest soon becomes a source of procrastination for all other good things that you can do. Waqas (Co-Founder Markhor) tells me this almost every time I meet with him. And I love this too.
You learn things by finishing things.
I first realized this problem with me while reading Linchpin from Seth Godin. After doing some research I found out that I am not alone. So many people like entrepreneurs, IT professionals, writers (of course) etc are suffering from this. I thought it would make a great post about how to approach a project that matters. How to make sure that you deliver your best work, work that matters and don’t fall a prey to leaving things in halfway.
The concepts here are from Linchpin and also some from buffer blog. I have mixed them up so that the post becomes a list of steps that you can use as a guideline to ship things on time.
1- Set the due date
The first thing you need to do is to set a deadline for your project. This is not easy as it seems. Two mistakes we often make while setting timelines are that they are unrealistic and then we think extending them a bit won’t harm the overall project.
Do discuss the project details with your team members first and then set a realistic timeline for it. Once done make sure you deliver on the set date. The later mentioned gets tough especially when the scope of project is big. The fear of shipping imperfect work gets in as soon as deadline comes nearer. This is one form of procrastination and it’s not good.
Perfection can cause procrastination and you need to avoid it. Think in terms of what you have done and not what you have left. Was it your best work till the deadline? If the answer is yes than ship it.
2- Make post-it notes of everything
Write down every single notion, idea, plan, sketch, contact etc. Don’t assume that you have this in mind. You have it now but there is no guarantee that it will stay in your mind ten days from now. You don’t have to be pretty formal at this stage. Just note down everything.
Discuss all these things with your team members who will be part of this project. Take suggestions from them and ask for help. This is very important. It will either refine certain idea or it will put it in trash. Both of them are very important at this early stage of project and one of them should happen with every idea, notion, plan etc.
To get maximum out of this activity you need to bring your team at same mental level as yours. Make them feel something about the project you are about to start. You can only get useful ideas if your team is motivated towards the work you want them to do. Read the post it cards loud in front of your team to make them feel that you are passionate about it. Doing so will also force your mind to remember things for a much longer duration of time.
The end result of this activity should be lots of post it cards filled with ideas, notions, sketches and everything else that you and your team have agreed upon.
3- Build a Blueprint
This is a more formal documentation of your post it cards. Make a database of all the ideas, actions that you decided above. One record can either be an idea, an action, an helping image or contact. Rearrange them in order in which they will be executed and build a sketch or blueprint of your overall project.
Feel free to add new things and rearrange existing. Let yourself and your team play around with them to get the best arrangement.
There are some great project management tools available which you can use. If you don’t know any of them or you do not want to learn a new just for the sake of this, no problem. Use Excel or even a simple pad to write everything down. The purpose is, at the end of the day you have a blueprint like ten page outline of a book, menu list for dinner arrangement or travel and hotel arrangement details of your next family vacation.
4- Take a Sign Off
Once you have your blueprint ready, show it to concerned people. Not to everyone but only to those who matter. Who have the power, money or someone who can ship your work for example your boss. Take a yes. Don’t start if the answer is “may be” or something even more ambiguous. Only start when you know that your project will get shipped.
If you are part of a startup this process may be more easy as compared to if you are part of a bigger organization or where investors have a bigger role to play. Just because you and your team think that the work you are about to do is good for the company does not mean it is. And even if it is then without proper approval it won’t become a reality. Hence it will be a useless effort.
5- Thrash Early
Steve McConnell has written many books about how to run software projects. His project management concepts can be applied to other fields of work as well. He has literally redefined the term thrashing in his books. According to him thrashing is the work that we ship. But the problem is we thrash at the near end of our deadline. The result is poorly finished products that customers don’t want to buy or use.
The alternate approach that McConnell emphasis a lot in his book is to start thrashing very early in project life cycle. Once you have the project approval start thrashing right away.
The problem with most of us is that we are normally more concerned about urgencies and not what is important. You and your team may most probably be thinking about what you need to deliver tomorrow rather then what you will ship in next six months. You not only have to talk yourself into early thrashing but also to your team members as well.
I myself am learning about these things lately but I have used a good mix of these steps in a couple of projects. I can clearly tell that those projects were a better work of mine. Would love to hear your thoughts on how to effectively ship the work that matters.
Image Credit: Pingup