6 Ways to Thrive in Challenging Projects

Challenging projects. We’ve all had to deal with at least one. Maybe every project is challenging in its own way. Of course, the nature of the challenge defines how to best address problems and move forward, but there are some basic truths that can be applied to all projects.

Focus on goals. When facing an especially complicated project, either with lots of phases or with a huge, multi-layered scope, remember to keep the end-game in mind so your perspective can disengage from the short term frustrations and uncover the purpose underlying the challenge. Just think about the customers who are going to be able to use your product so much easier and faster! Or the public who will have the ability to access this project’s information within minutes instead of weeks or months or not at all. Or your employer/start-up/organization that will finally be able to accomplish their mission at this project’s completion. And if the end game is too far away to seem like a real carrot, set up short-term goals that align with your project schedule and think about each of those.

Roll up your sleeves. When the going gets tough, the tough roll up their sleeves and get to work. It may be common to suffer through a lot of fussy pre-preparation, mapping out the project to the nth degree, having lots of meetings, having meetings about meetings, and spending a significant amount of time ramping up. It may also be a common experience to wade through office politics, doing your best to avoid different warring camps and trying to keep the past out of the present. It can be difficult to overcome bloated processes and the political nature of the workplace, but doing the work (and doing it well) and being dedicated to getting work done can often neutralize the noise that happens on the periphery. And believe it or not, seeing a teammate work hard and produce successfully can inspire others to follow suit.

Find common ground. So, I’ve hinted at it above, but some of the most challenging aspects in the workplace are personalities. If you have to work with one of those “challenging” personalities, you may already have some tools you can use to counter-act the bad behavior. If you can find something, anything, you have in common with this person, you can use that in your favor by reminding them from time to time that you are not the enemy. Sometimes, you may have an adversarial relationship with some other group or department…this is harder to deal with, especially if the pressure is on one or both of you to deliver. In this case, it should be the job of leadership to figure out a way past differences, but if you have to work with “adversaries” in the trenches, having common goals and showing the willingness to do the work can begin to build bridges. Over time, you can change the culture to be less adversarial with some positive gains.

Phone a friend. Hard projects are not unusual, so you probably know someone who has some background in dealing with difficult situations.If you can find a mentor who has survived the trials and tribulations of a challenging project, they may have some secrets to maneuvering through to a successful outcome. Maybe your relative managed a small firm a couple of decades ago, but experience is experience and he could give you that golden idea that lets you unlock a frozen project or at least some tips to soldier on. Or maybe your old high school friend who has become a project manager over at that company across town can fill you in on her secrets to successfully working through challenges. Just hearing someone else’s perspective can shed some light on your own situation.

Celebrate accomplishments. No matter how minor they are, give yourself a chance to smile at milestones met. Maybe you finalized your backlog. Woo hoo! High fives all around! Go grab a fancy coffee with a team member. Maybe it’s the successful end of Sprint 1. That’s worthy of a team lunch out to the local taco hut. Maybe it was simply a good meeting with decisions made that have clarified the project direction. Say so. Tell the decision makers “thank you,” because they have just made your project a tiny bit less challenging. Huzzah! It’s the little things, right?

Keep things in perspective. Work isn’t life. I mean, sometimes it might seem like it is, but it isn’t. Not really. Also, you work with humans who are as faulted and funny, as stressed out and sleep deprived, and as mad and mighty as you are. It IS just work. Give it its due time, try not to take things too seriously, try to leave work at work, and then go home. Go indulge in the great outdoors, have a beer with your friend, see a movie with your partner, take a trip to the spa, or just spend a quiet night in with your dog. Work feeds your mind (at least part of it, right?), but you have to feed your body and soul so that you don’t lose those other parts of you while you try to hammer out this new system with a bunch of people just like you. Be kind to yourselves. Life’s too short.

TechCORE MSS has defined itself as a company that can roll up its sleeves and get to work on those challenging projects, delivering success while managing deadlines and the pressure that comes with them. Contact us at solutions@techcoremss.com or 703-337-4300 to discuss how we can help you on your next project.