There comes a time in every growing company’s story when it makes sense to expand your scope and take on an additional project or an experimental development effort. This is common, for example, for companies that have a main product but want to develop a new internal tool or an additional mobile app.
The most innovative companies in the world don’t reach that status by accident, after all. Innovation happens through experimentation, by taking on additional projects and trying new tasks. When they succeed, the rewards can be monumental.
But juggling multiple projects is never easy, especially for rapidly expanding companies scaling up at lightning speed, or rising startups with limitless ambition but limited resources. Sometimes an additional IT project isn’t developing at a pace that matches your needs. Deadlines start being missed. Milestones start slipping. Meetings become heated. Frustration is on the rise, and failure seems around the corner.
Don’t abandon ship on your experimental project entirely just yet, though. Consider these five strategies first, rooted in tried-and-tested project management principles.
1. Isolate and sprint to attack the biggest roadblock to meeting your timeline.
Take the time to seriously evaluate both your main project and additional project’s schedule of deliverables. First, is the schedule complete and accurate, or could it use some refining? Next, what’s the biggest constraint on your schedule, currently? Where are you most behind, and what’s in your backlog — and what’s hurting you the most by getting stuck in that backlog?
Once you narrow down your biggest roadblock or the sorest spot in your backlog, you may need to isolate that task or deadline and subordinate all other efforts until you can eliminate the constraint and return to widening your focus.
Borrow or revisit some techniques from a full-scrum approach, for example. A series of well-timed, well-coordinated sprints may get you further towards your goals if steady, spread-out progress hasn’t been swift enough. Sprints are also a tried-and-true way to unite and focus a struggling team on a single goal. Once they successfully complete that sprint and that goal, their motivation will be renewed to tackle the next.
2. Take a close, hard look at your project teams and their distribution.
Are you developing your additional project with the same, cross-functional team, or are you working with multiple independent development teams? Either approach can work depending on your team’s skills, average development speed and priorities. However, if you’ve found yourself in a place where your additional project isn’t delivering as it should, it’s a good sign you should reevaluate your capacity and capabilities.
If you have two separate teams on each project, now’s a good time to consider whether a strategic swap of team members or roles might re-energize both efforts. If you’ve chosen a single-team approach and find yourself experiencing challenges, you may have to accept you’ve been pushing them over capacity and compromising both your efforts in the process. It might be a good time to determine whether dedicating a few additional resources could turn the tide back in your project’s favor.
3. Resist the urge to micromanage.
When a project starts going south or a team isn’t meeting performance expectations, it’s certainly worth evaluating your overall management approach, too. Perhaps you haven’t been communicating or connecting as effectively as you could be with your teams. Perhaps you’ve been too hands-off or unclear on expectations, leading to unclear results.
However, remember there’s also a difference between being informed and engaged versus too involved. We all know the saying, “If you can’t get something done right, do it yourself” — but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be effective or appropriate to step in and singlehandedly save the day. You can’t be fighting on the front lines every day and directing the battle at the same time.
Instead, see if you can isolate and rethink certain aspects of your management or role to find where the problem might be. For example, maybe you can shift around some of the responsibilities you’ve delegated in new ways. And rather than micromanaging and taking control of everything, instead come up with a better way to set and oversee the project’s progress. How often are you receiving status updates and what’s involved in those updates? Is there a way to automate, revise or otherwise shake up that process? Is it time to break out a Kanban board to look at the project’s status in a new way?
Your goal should be to keep your attention directed on your struggling project, but in the most effective and efficient way possible. Doing it all yourself might work in the short run — but in the long run, you, your development teams and your company will suffer.
4. Remember you started this experimental project for a reason.
Your main revenue-generating or core business product will of course always take priority. And in worst-case, sink-or-swim scenarios, you may need to abandon your additional project in order to keep your main product on track.
But when the ship starts sinking, don’t forget why you got on the boat to begin with. What business needs were you trying to meet? What benefits could a successful project bring to your company? Experiments have a cost, but we undertake them because they can also have incredible rewards. Are those potential rewards worth giving up at this stage? Revisit your “why” before you throw in the towel completely.
The same goes for your development teams. When a project is struggling, chances are good that team morale is at a low. But if you can clearly communicate your vision for this project to them and the ROI that’s at stake, they’ll be more likely to want to remain or become an active part of making that vision a reality. Sure, this is Team Motivation 101 — but if you’re experiencing challenges at this stage in the game, it’s probably a good idea to go back to the basics for a bit.
5. Take the time to hotwash, document lessons learned and thank your team.
In the worst case scenario, maybe none of the above works. You tried some new approaches, you tried to revisit and restore some fundamentals, but in the end, it just didn’t pan out. Your experimental project failed. You’re about to make the hard decision to pull the plug after all. Now what?
In the case of a failed experiment, it’s only human nature to want to just forget about it all and move on, especially since you’re probably scrambling to catch up on all your other efforts across your lines of business. Emotions can run high in these situations, especially for the team members on the front line who’ve likely suffered a lot of pressure and given their all, despite everything.
Before you dismantle everything, though, take the time to reflect a bit — with everyone involved — and make sure you learn all you can from the situation. A hotwash (sometimes also called an After-Action Review or Postmortem, among other names) is a must. Ideally, have someone who wasn’t on the team help facilitate the meeting, too, to help keep a neutral and objective perspective.
Document the progress you’ve made, identify what went wrong and why, and make sure to recognize what went right, too. Thank everyone involved and show them you still value their contributions. This can go a long way to repairing the bruised egos or strained relationships that are common in the fallout of a project’s collapse.
Sometimes, it takes a lot of failed experiments to find the solution that changes everything. That’s the nature of an experiment, after all. But if you make sure you learn from each one and try something differently next time — whether it’s a different approach or seeking outside help from an expert development team — success will be inevitable.
As legendary entrepreneur Henry Ford has said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Can Genium help your company deliver on your additional/experimental project?
Here at Genium, we connect forward-thinking companies with world-class developers and engineers. And we offer a number of services and approaches that can get your additional or side project off the ground without compromising your main product or reputation. For example, we can help you develop and launch a stand-alone product under another brand to minimize risks. Don’t hesitate to contact us today to find out how we can make your innovative vision a reality.