December 18, 2006

Working in The Long Run

What's the longest project you've worked on in your career? One year, two, ten? During the recent launch of my wife's book (Every Kitchen Tells Its Stories - Recipes to Warm the Heart) I found myself thinking about long run projects and what it means to be involved with them.

The book was a multi year effort requiring singular focus through a series of highs and lows. It reminded me of a two year project I led. Actually it was a complex sales campaign, a big, high risk bet considering that my company was the under-dog and up against entrenched competitors.

We didn't set out on this project intentionally. Early on, this was a minor initiative, the result of great idea, that quickly become strategic and critical to the future of the business. One minute I'm doing business as usual and then suddenly I'm the flavor of the year, getting unpresidented internal access and visibility. All great stuff, but bottom line - I was out there on my own.

In every company, team, or business unit, there needs to be a mix of long, medium and short term initiatives/campaigns to mitigate risks. Why? By the time the long term project delivers - it may no longer be relevant, etc... Winning in this case is actually losing.

So what do you do if you're on one of those long term "out there" initiatives?

Here's advice you may want to follow:

  1. Stay connected: The temptation is to invest 100% of your time "out there". Don't. Once per week, meet with someone back at the mother ship. This will keep you up to date on the goings on. After all, once the project is done you'll be back.
  2. Communicate: You may be offsite or travelling alot. But keep the lines of communication open. Send out a weekly, or biweekly status/update email. This gets everyone up to date and especially keeps your manager/leader up to date should someone question the existance of the initiative.
  3. Stay Objective: During the course of the project, your ability to stay objective and adapt will erode. So at least every month conduct a SWOT Assessment (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threat) to keep yourself objective. Share this info with your manager/leader.

So back to my long term project, did I win? Absolutely! Even though the win was sweet, what I remember most was what the President of my company said after he handed me a big promotion. I asked him if he would have promoted me if I lost. He said - "even if you'd failed, you earned the right to be here."

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