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Fixing Your 'Ugh' Projects

Four Useful Tips For You To Apply To Your Summertime Projects

For those of us in the Midwest, the green of the grass, the trees these days, and the bright colors of the many blooming flowers is a wonderful contrast to what had been the dull and lifeless brown-gray of winter. And maybe it’s that splash of bright color, or maybe it’s the warmth of the rising temperatures or the longer days where we can see and feel the sun’s rays, but something has many of us with a little more optimism, a little bigger smiles, a little more spring in our step.

I’d like to capitalize on that and move some of that optimism over to the projects we’re facing. At home or at work, there’s lots of stuff to be done: graduation parties to host, home improvement projects to complete, packing and moving efforts to do if you have students getting ready to go off to college, or coming home from school for the summer, vacations to take, and more! But some folks hear the word “project” and think, “ugh”. 


I get it; plenty of projects make us want to say “ugh.” 

  • Perhaps you’ve been on one of those projects that seemed full of “surprises” and hurdles. 
  • Perhaps you’ve been close to one of those projects that felt like it went on and on, never really getting “done” because someone kept adding scope or moving the goal further out. 
  • Perhaps you’ve been on one of those projects that was just plain uncomfortable because the team acted more like a bunch of individuals than a team.

If you’ve experienced any of these, you know that they can be unpleasant for those involved.


Given my commitment to helping people have better workdays, I’m opposed to just letting folks suffer through unpleasant projects. So at the risk of repeating things you may have heard from me before (but with brand-new examples!), let me share a couple of tips to help you help others by having more pleasant projects this season. 


Four useful tips for you to apply to your summertime projects

Holding someone accountable to expectations that haven’t been shared is tyrannical at best, impossible at worst.

If you’ve got a project on the horizon, such as an HVAC repair for example (not that I’m sharing from recent experience or anything), make sure you and those doing the work and those impacted by the projects have shared expectations about...

  1. When the work will be done and how long it will take. A simple “this is a two-day install” is perhaps a more effective way of setting expectations than “we’ll be there on Thursday”.
  2. How uncomfortable it’s going to be before we have this solution, and what our temporary workarounds are. “It’s going to get hot three days this week, and here’s what we’ve arranged to help you cool off when it does” is a great way to both talk about the reality of the unpleasant as well as the commitment to doing the best we can to get through it.
  3. The possibility of risks on the horizon. “This looks like pretty standard work, but based on other work in buildings of this age, or projects of this nature, the places we might encounter delays or cost increases are these:...” is a great way of setting the expectation that we have a plan, and we know we may have to adapt as we discover what we don’t know yet.


We plan together, together we plan.

Admittedly, some folks just love planning more than others, but when we plan together, we wind up with better results. Let’s say, for example, that you’re planning a family vacation of some sort.

  1. Planning together with those who are impacted helps us determine accountability and time lines and interests. Sure, while the kiddos are little, they don’t need to be involved in much of the planning, but if there are two adults, both adults should probably get to chime in on the dates and the end goals. And when those kids are old enough to have (gasp!) opinions or when their activities start to stretch them thin, including them in the planning helps ensure your family vacation doesn’t involve an unexpected detour to Wisconsin to pick one kid up from music camp.
  2. Planning together with others who’ve been-there-done-that helps us anticipate and prepare for risks. Asking for input from others who’ve been on similar trips about what they liked or didn’t like, what they recommend, or tips they offer can save you unpleasant surprises along the way.
  3. Planning together gives you a chance to prepare for the reality that planning matters, but that the actual plans can change. Sometimes we have three or four plans for how we’ll handle something when it comes up, and when the actual moment comes, the fact that we have a plan for that is exactly what we need. When you plan with others, you can anticipate obstacles or hiccups, and you can develop risk response plans from multiple perspectives, rather than just your own lens.


People work smoothest together when they panic at the same time.

Now let me be clear, that doesn’t mean we produce the best results, and I’m not in any way advocating for surrounding yourself with people who think and work just like you do. I’m advocating for being prepared for the bumps that can come when we panic at different times.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re hosting a graduation party at your house, and because of the chosen menu and the unpredictable weather, much of the food prep and decoration prep has to be done on the day-of...(again, just spitballing here, no real examples in my life recently, sure). Now let’s say that you’ve got a handful of tasks that can be done in advance. If you’ve got a whole team of pressure-prompted folks, then everyone is going to wait for the last minute and get it done with that extra push at the end. If you’ve got a whole team of early preppers, then everyone is going to get as much done ahead as they can, and only leave to the end those things that absolutely can’t be done in advance. If, however, you’ve got an early-prepper working with a pressure-prompted, let’s say on the way-finding signs that need to be placed at the intersections leading to the house, then you’ve got some unpleasant tension as one nags to get the signs made and done (so that the only thing that’s left is the actual placement) and the other drags their feet (because those signs aren’t actually needed until the last minute anyway). In order to inspire pressure-prompted individuals to complete work early, you’ll have to create some sort of pressure, and that can be uncomfortable. If we know that in advance, we can reach agreement (see points 1 and 2 above) about how to handle and pace ourselves without stressing each other out.


Communication is the deliverable until we deliver the deliverable.

Shout out to the wonderful John Stenbeck for introducing me to this phrase years ago. It is so powerful and so meaningful - whatever project you’re working on!

  1. If I’m a sponsor - the only way I can know how things are coming towards this project I’ve asked for, is to get it from you. I need project team members to be proactive and communicate what’s happening, what’s working, how we’re coming along.
  2. If I’m a project manager - communication is 90% of my job and the single biggest reason for project failure. I need to communicate the what we’re doing, the why we’re doing it, the how long it’s going to take, the who’s doing what, the how we’re coming along, and I need to make sure communication is flowing effectively across the team.
  3. If I’m a team member - the only way you’ll know how much I care about the end deliverable is in the communications I share along the way. I need to put as much effort into my messaging as I put into the end product I'm producing. 


There you have it. Four useful tips to apply to your summertime projects. How will you make your projects even better this summer? Let us know on social media! 


Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Project Management & Business Analysis

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

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