Projects should have an end, not just fade away — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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It is the nature of life , business and career that you will start many more projects than you complete. Needs change. Specifications change. Business climates change. Projects once thought new and innovative are superseded by those even newer and more innovative. In this hyperactive world of change, we can forget that sometimes the best beginnings are actually good endings.


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Too often in life and work, we simply let projects, ideas and initiatives fade away instead of bringing them to a useful, definitive end. Equipment is left to slowly die in a corner or closet. Books sit unread and unwanted on employee bookshelves, budgets for one project slowly get absorbed by departments. While this slow fading of, usually failed, projects might be easier on our ego, it saps the energy and attention we need to focus on the new, even better, projects to come.

Every project should build in, from the very beginning, an end-of-life plan. How long will the project last? How often should its viability be reviewed? What is the expected result? What constitutes success…or failure…and how do we close the project out when either arrives? Setting guidelines at the beginning of a project not only help you to know when it is complete, but also force you to look more close at what you are trying to accomplish, and how.

“Starting with the end in mind” has long been good life and career advice, but so many people ignore that today. We become so involved in launching new projects, we forget about those already in progress. We don’t think about the end — out of fear of failure, fear of success or simple inattention in our crazy lives. Sure, developing new projects and ideas is always of great importance, but it is hard to do that when we are surrounded by the detritus of previous attempts and completed projects that have never been brought to a close.

If you want to open up more space in your life for great new ideas, here are a few guidelines on how to “close the books” on some of your earlier projects.

Create a definitive list of every project currently in progress

Don’t worry about individual tasks. This isn’t a ToDo list. Rather think about the larger, overarching projects currently in progress. This should only take a short time, but dig deep and find all those projects that are curled up in the corners like dust bunnies. I guarantee you will find projects on your ToDo list, and those of your staff, that you had entirely forgotten about. Once you get a good list of projects, the hard work begins.

Quickly evaluate each project as a Go, No Go or Done

Now, get your team together and, as quickly as possible, give each project a status of:

Go — Start or continue the project
No Go — Stop the project immediately
Done — Wrap up the project in the next day or week

Regardless of which status you choose for any given projects, your next task is to specify the next, physical, action that needs to be taken on the project. For a Go project, this might include assigning more staff, buying new equipment, launching a new PR campaign. This is your chance to focus your attention on something you think, today, is of the utmost importance.

For No Go projects, start the shutdown procedures immediately. Make it clear to yourself and your staff that this project is done. Document the project, learn from it what you can and then archive it. Move the project files out of sight. Redirect staff and equipment to one of your Go projects and free up whatever “mindshare” that project was taking up in your thoughts and those of your staff.

An example from my own, past, theater life is from the summer theater I worked at in Huron, Ohio during college. The troupe lived on-site and produced 6 different shows in eight weeks. As you might imagine, once one play or musical was complete, you needed to clear mental space for the next show in line. We often talked about doing a “mental flush” of a show after the last performance. Remembering those lines, those actions, did us no good at all moving forward. In fact, they could even hurt us if they caused confusion or mental lapses on stage. Consider using the same tactics with your No Go projects. Get rid of them and move on.

Finally, for Done projects, it is important that you spend some time documenting what you learned and providing instruction to those who will be tasked in maintaining the project in the future. This is often one of the most neglected parts of any project. This is dangerous — and a bit silly — as poor documentation, follow up and maintenance can actually reverse or destroy many of the benefits the project created. Create detailed hand-off documentation for everyone who will touch this project down the road. Give it the best opportunity to serve you well for years to come. Don’t squander the success you created.

As with all the other statuses, though, it is important to bring the project — or at least one phase of the project — to an end, definitively. Hold a meeting. Hold a party. Raise a glass to toast its success and allow everyone to come to some closure. This allows people to remember what success feels like, but it also allows them to mentally move on to the next, hopefully great, project on their list.

Free up your mind — and your calender — for new projects by actually finishing your projects whether you bring them to a successful conclusion or simply kill off those projects that didn’t work out. Don’t just let them fade away.


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