Friday, November 13, 2009

Project Doldrums

Sometimes a project gets into a pretty frustrating state, in which:
  • it's "mostly" done
  • it's highly visible
  • it's just starting to get tried by a broad audience, and not all of them know the background and details of the project, just this thing they have been asked to try.
If you're not careful, this is where you get stuck in the project doldrums. Now is the time to avoid getting stagnated on the project. You're getting feedback, which is probably introducing new requirements or ideas. You're probably finding a few issues. It's likely that you have one or two things you already knew you needed to do. And those things just sort of keep piling on each other.

It's now up to you to get control of it and get momentum again. (I could keep the doldrums metaphor going and say that you have to turn on the motor and get out of the listless winds.)

Getting momentum isn't hard, really. There are only three key things that you must do:
  1. Time box it. You should be happy to take feedback, but you're only giving people a set amount of time to provide it. After that, no new requirements, no whining. It will go into production as it is spec'd.
  2. Make your task list public. You have a set of things you now need to do (fix bugs, update config, add a few features). Publish it, and publish where you are on that list. That way you don't get the same complaints over and over, and when it's fixed, you can tell people to try again. It's a way to show that feedback is not ignored, that you will get to it, and that you are making progress.
  3. Do only your tasks. Don't make random changes or other changes. Every change you make should be based on a task in your list. It is imperative that your task list be complete. If you find something else, add it to the task list, then do it. You don't want to give your (now very public) audience the impression that you're flailing around making random changes. It makes them lose confidence in you.
Projects can hit the doldrums. It will happen eventually. Don't worry about it overly; you can get out of them. Just do it with momentum, and do it with confidence.

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