Navigating Project Stalls: From Grounded to Takeoff

January 31, 2024
January 31, 2024 Greg Olson

Navigating ​​Project Stalls

Project stalls are inevitable, and this blog post is your guide to navigating through them. Drawing inspiration from decades of project stalls in both corporate and nonprofit realms, the catalyst for sharing this insight was a recent experience with a nonprofit board. In a project stagnant for two years, the challenge wasn’t technical complexity but the lack of a clear path forward. The goal? Crafting a postcard mailer for members. Despite a budget and shared expectations, unresolved elements hampered progress. These unresolved aspects included messaging, the status of the nonprofit mailing permit, the choice of postcard size, and the decision on whether to manage the mailing internally or through a service. Without a creative brief or a project plan in place, various board members independently generated conflicting drafts. If the project were a plane, it was stuck on the tarmac for two years, and the passengers were less than enthused.

Project Gaining Momentum

To carry the metaphor further, we needed to get this plane cleared for takeoff. To address this, a comprehensive creative brief was drafted, incorporating input from committee members and specifying visual elements and prioritized messaging. This was drafted in real time during a zoom call since all committee members were unable to meet in the same location. Decisions on postcard stamps, permit renewal, and outsourcing were explored. A workback schedule from the target “arrival in mailboxes” date was also included in the creative brief.

Prototypes and Practicalities

A prototype was created and exposed more peculiarities that didn’t surface in the creative brief discussion. There were no further meetings but email feedback from members helped guide unresolved issues. We resisted the temptation to perpetually change the messaging, relying on the brief which had prioritized messaging that was clearly in the “good enough” to proceed category. There were also tensions that arose from late coming requirements that were in the teams’ blindspot initially. One example is that requirement that the postcard contain the mailing address of the nonprofit with the nonprofit mailing permit.

In Flight Beyond the Project Stall

The project required decisions and actions by many people, eventually leading to an approved draft now in production, reflecting a renewed nonprofit mailing permit and staying within budget. The experience highlights the importance of clear communication, adaptability, and strategic decision-making when tackling projects with nonprofit boards or similar groups. There are many lessons to be learned from getting out of the project stall and getting this project to take flight. These lessons learned could apply to your projects too.

Twelve Lessons Learned Navigating Project Stalls

The lessons learned from this project with the nonprofit board can be applied to various projects, especially those involving collaboration and strategic planning. Here are some overarching lessons and steps that can be useful in tackling similar projects:

  1. Clear Project Vision and Objectives:
    • Define the purpose and expected results of the project clearly from the outset.
    • Ensure that all team members understand and align with the overall vision and objectives.
  2. Deploying Strategies:
    • As David Maister emphasizes in his book, “Strategy and the Fat Smoker”, you don’t get the benefits of a strategy not deployed. Action is crucial for success.
  3. Thorough Planning and Documentation:
    • Develop a comprehensive project plan and creative brief.
    • Document essential information, including budget, messaging, visual elements, and logistical considerations.
  4. Effective Communication:
    • Establish open and transparent communication channels within the team.
    • Hold meetings or committee sessions to gather input and share crucial information.
  5. Consolidation of Ideas:
    • Avoid conflicting drafts and visions by consolidating ideas from various team members.
    • Create a unified creative brief based on input from all stakeholders.
  6. Decision-Making Process:
    • Clearly define roles and responsibilities within the team.
    • Be prepared to make executive decisions when conflicts arise, ensuring progress is not hindered by indecision.
  7. Feedback and Iteration:
    • Encourage a feedback loop to catch and address issues early in the process.
    • Be open to iteration and refinement based on feedback received during the project.
  8. Prototyping and Reality Check:
    • Develop prototypes or samples to bring the project closer to reality.
    • Evaluate practical aspects, such as image resolution, text size, and overall design, before finalizing, ensuring compliance with postal or other requirements.
  9. Adaptability and Flexibility:
    • Be adaptable to unexpected challenges and new tensions that may arise during the project.
    • Stay flexible in your approach and be willing to adjust plans as needed.
  10. Scheduling and Timeline Management:
    • Create a realistic workback schedule, especially when dealing with time-sensitive projects.
    • Work backward from the desired completion date to ensure all tasks are accounted for.
  11. Budget Management:
    • Regularly assess and manage the budget throughout the project lifecycle.
    • Explore cost-effective solutions without compromising on quality.
  12. Reflect and Learn:
    • Conduct post-project evaluations to reflect on what worked well and what could be improved.
    • Use these reflections as a basis for continuous improvement in future projects.

Soaring to Success

By incorporating these lessons and steps into project management practices, nonprofit boards and other collaborative groups can enhance their efficiency, decision-making processes, and overall success in executing projects. I hope this helps you in navigating project stalls and empowers you to prevent them from occurring in the first place. May all of your projects take flight and you soar to success!

, , , ,

Greg Olson

Strategic and creative chief marketer working with business leaders to clarify and communicate vision, advance innovative products and services, and build more capable, more profitable enterprises. Agency and client-side experiences in startups, small businesses, nonprofits, and publicly traded Fortune 100 enterprises. Especially adept at creating a clear path forward for products and services that are new to the world. I am passionate about creating a better world.
Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.