What to do when your project is failing

Dear future Ben,

Projects fail for a lot of reasons. But one of the most common is the people involved. So, next time you find yourself in the middle of a struggling project, try this...

Draw a graph with four quadrants on a big whiteboard. Write “high influence” at the top and “low influence” at the bottom. Write “saboteur” on the left and “advocate” on the right.

A graph on which to chart the members of your project.

Now, start adding the names of every person on your project. People with a high level of influence should stay toward the top of the chart, those without influence should be on the bottom. People who are actively trying to sabotage the project should be on the left, while those advocating for its success should be on the right.

If your project is struggling, it’s likely that you have a few folks in the top left quadrant. You need to find a way to move them to the right. In other words, figure out their area of responsibility, and shape your project to help them in some way. Demonstrate that you can be valuable to them.

To be super-proactive, just do this at the very beginning of every project (or as soon as you think you have an understanding of those involved). Then, reevaluate every so often. Chances are, it will shift throughout the work.

Get the influential folks to be advocates, and the rest will fall into place.

Your past self

P.S. This may actually be more important than doing good work.