Dealing with Project Bumps – Get Mad, Get Over it, Get Smarter

“The best-laid plans of mice and men go awry often.”
– Robert Burns (paraphrased)

Problems – Every Project Has Them

At Atomic Object, we do mostly project-based work. We spend a lot of time planning a new project. We plan before the project starts, and (because we use Agile practices) we continually plan while the project is in progress. This helps us catch things that can block a project from moving forward before they have a chance to do so.

But regardless of how much we plan, think, and prepare, there are alway unforeseen bumps in the road. Since all of our projects are unique, there’s a good chance that these bumps will also be unique. On my recent projects, for example, I’ve seen teams falling behind, unexpected departures, third party integration issues, and more.

These have the potential to significantly impact the project, eating up budget and distracting the whole team from the true purpose of the project—making an awesome product gives the client maximum value for their investment.

The 4 Phases of Productive Coping

I’ve spent some time thinking back on how I’ve dealt with problems like this in the past. Ideally, I go through four steps:

1. Get upset.

I don’t throw things or yell, but I do get upset when problems occur. I’ve noticed that I find it good to get upset about the problem. Getting upset lets me vent and, I’m no psychiatrist, but I think it helps to acknowledge that what just happened is frustrating and will cause some problems on the project. Being upset can last a few seconds or it can last till the next day, but I don’t think it has ever lasted more than that.

2. Get over it.

Now that the frustration has been released, it’s time to get over it. There is no sense in staying upset for long. A few ways I use to help get over it may be to take a few deep breaths, or to take a walk outside. If it’s a bigger problem, I like to go to the gym and get a good workout, or I talk to someone about the problem (my wife is a good listener).

I find that I need to get away from problems and clear my head. By allowing myself some time to be upset about the problem and then working to get over the problem, I think I prepare myself to deal with it better.

3. Find a solution.

My best time to deal effectively with a problem is once I have gotten over being upset. I can now focus on what will it take to deal with the problem and get the project back on track.

Sometimes the solution is right in front of me, but it was difficult to see thru the fog of being upset. Other times it may take some input and discussion from others, and it is better to do this when I am not upset anymore and focusing clearly on finding a solution.

4. Learn your lesson.

Lastly, every bump is an opportunity to learn, finding ways to mitigate this issue in future projects. Sometimes, this is quick, and other times it takes careful research and thinking to find the root cause of the problem and see how it can be avoided.

I believe this reflection is an investment worth making. I’m hoping that someday I’ve encountered all the bumps that can impact a project and then using my lessons learned work on the perfect project!

Moving On

To keep a project on track, it’s essential to deal quickly with the inevitable bumps. It’s okay to get upset, but it’s not okay to stay upset and let it impact your ability to get the project back on track. Once you get it out and get over it, it’s easier to assess the situation, find a solution, and move on to the next thing.

Bumps in a project can drive you nuts. The important part of keeping your sanity is remembering that bad stuff happens, reacting appropriately, and making the most of it.