Can we stop the Hydra from eating our project joy?
One of my favorite phases of any project is the beginning. I love starting things! The project landscape is like a blank sheet of paper or fresh blanket of snow. There’s so much excitement, so many things to do, so much new stuff to learn and puzzles to solve and details to figure out.
Then, a few weeks into the project, the inevitable shift happens. Problems crop up. Deadlines start to slip. Feature creep, bugs, negative feedback from beta testers, unforseen complexities. People just plain lose interest, or get distracted by life, or get interested in the next thing. Inevitably, all of these factors aggregate to form a gigantic Hydra that continuously attacks your project, your morale as a team, your spirits.
Now, instead of innovating and trailblazing, it becomes a full time task just to avoid having your soul consumed by the violent beast. Now the fresh blanket of snow becomes tattered, stained with the blood of you, your team, and the beast. The once unblemished landscape is littered with the serpetine heads you are able to strike down, which is never all of them, and as it is with Hydras, they just keep growing two for every one you lop off.
So you run around feverishly, wielding the sword and shield of your text editor, design documents, acceptance criteria, project tracker, and whatever other infrastructure you use. Bemoaning the wretched beast that is the [end user|stakeholder|team member|pm|contractor] from whence your woes originate.
And the deadlines slip. And momentum winnows steadily down. That fervor which propelled you, tires screeching, adrenaline coursing, from the starting line, has all but gone. This COULD have been such a great project. We SHOULD have made history. It SHOULD have been a game changer. Now the excitement is replaced with disdain and resentment. The joy is replaced with frustration and loathing. The Hydra is winning.
How often do we introspect on what we did that caused or exacerbated the problem? Apparently, a fair bit. Google shows 5,570,000 results for the query “why do projects fail.” If there are nearly 6 million resources for figuring out how to prevent a project from failing, then why do we keep repeating the cycle? In our introspection, though, are we considering our own actions and how they impacted the situation? Did we give in to the desire for the ‘right’ solution over what the context of the project called for at the time? Did we give in to pressures for the ‘fast/cheap’ solution when we knew it would only cause problems down the road? Worse, did we choose the quick fix to meet a deadline, only to create more work for a team member in a future iteration? Have we failed to build sustainability and accountability into our workflow?
Are we improving our ability to recognize when we are taking an action or making a decision that could negatively impact the workflow, or the team, or the quality of the product? What can we do to become more aware of how, and when, our choices and actions steal joy from the project? What have you done in the past that has kept that initial fervor burning? How can we, like Heracles, avoid the poisonous breath and cauterize the exponentially multiplicative neck stumps of the ancient beast, vanquishing it for once and for all?
I hope I’m not alone in saying that I am bone tired of watching great projects and great teams with great intentions run out of steam halfway to the finish line. Is there anyone out there who knows how to successfully avoid these archetypal nightmare scenarios? If so will you please share your solutions here?