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Your Project on the Operating Table

January 3, 2012

Make no bones about it, it really sucks when an idea or project doesn’t work out the way you want it to. But how do you tell the difference between natural causes and misadventure? And what should you do to avoid another untimely demise of a beloved project? Consider this your autopsy and next steps guide to the projects that go belly up!

Nurse, I need 10cc’s of Ego, stat!

First and foremost, when a project fails to achieve a benchmark, please whatever you do, don’t put on your Ego hat and start flapping like a wounded bird. Anyone who has been invested in your idea will be feeling some pain of the failure too, and if you start squawking and blaming, sure enough all those doubts, worry, what-ifs and decision forks in the road will come back to skewer all of you if you let it. Yes, it sucks things didn’t go according to plan, but if ever there was a time to make use of your level head, it’s now.

Hand me my scalpel

In order to look at what and where things may have gone wrong, you need to open up the project and look at it properly, piece by bloody piece. Firstly, if you had a strategy or plan in place, you need to critically follow along that plan and see if you jumped off it anywhere and went on a tangent. Or if you followed it to the letter, you will need to see where the plan itself was ailing. Look for symptoms as to why things didn’t lead you to the right outcome. Collect them, review them and share them for more input, again without your ego hat on.

NB: If you find you didn’t have a plan, this is your answer!

Beware Outside Contagions

There is a big difference between gaining consultation from people and gathering up cool ideas in multiple forms of conversation to muddying things up and contaminating what you are trying to do. You know the saying “Opinions are like @#%^holes, everyone has one”? –it’s true! The more you go around looking for validation and advice from multiple sources, the higher the chance to contaminate and confuse your project. Measure up what you need in terms of advice and input ALWAYS against the core team you have and the milestones you set out to achieve else you risk losing sight of what your aims are, and even your project, to outside forces.

Pick your Operational Team

Place people in a position where they can play to their strengths, not their weaknesses- and allow them to take ownership of what they are doing in such a way that this continues for the project lifecycle. Don’t make people take on too much either. Operate as a team. You may be the head surgeon or nurse doing the brow swabbing but your role exists for an important reason and if you all of sudden stop doing what you are doing and change into something else, the hole that will create can be catastrophic.

Your Project on the Operating Table

Should we take her off Life Support?

So your poor old ailing project has been hit by a Mack truck, do you turn the machine off? Well, first of all before you make such a decision, you need to make sure you have checked to see how you got here in the first place (see the bits above). If you know these answers, you will know what you should do.

Look, not all projects will survive. Not all projects are meant to; sometimes they are before their time or not that great when they move from an idea to a reality. Others have met unfortunate accidents along the way but will come back to life.

Knowing why you ended up on Life Support is the ONLY way to know what to do.

That Healing Touch

If you have done a proper diagnosis, you should be able to work out how to cure your project’s ills- if one is available. Just remember that with any decent cure you will need to follow whatever prescription needed to cure the symptoms to the letter and ensure your project gets enough rest and recuperation time.

It may also help to give your audience time to get over the shock of everything your project has been through and reintroduce them at a time when health improves as opposed to expecting a bedside vigil as it recovers.

A Decent Burial

On the other hand, if the little monitor in the corner is making the peeeeeeeeeeep sound and that line is going to stay flat, a decent burial is in order. The process of making sure your project shuffles off its mortal coil in an appropriate way means you can appreciate what the project has done for you, taught you and seen you through- and it gives you as the project maker a chance to grieve in a healthy way rather than becoming bitter or disillusioned. It is also nice to measure how many little deaths you have encountered on the way to successes and to remember each success is in part due to the failed projects sacrifices.

The bottom line:

Above all else, remember creativity goes on. You do and will get through the failures you encounter and you should neither be afraid nor ashamed of them.

In fact, there are no failures, just lessons that are harder to learn than others. And the healthier you can be in your approach when success eludes you, the fitter your next attempt will be.

If at first you don’t succeed, you can try again- or try something new with the additional knowledge you gained from your last attempt!

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