How to Complete Big-Ass Projects

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Scenario: "We have to plan everything out. We'll do this first. Then this. Then that. Then that. Then we make billions. Yay!"

What Everybody (Almost) Does

Traditionally, you build your product in parts. That is, first you'll plan out what you'll do. You think you'll build your widget next. Then, you'll write your marketing materials. Then, you'll write down your sales materials. That's your plan, anyway. And, while being well-intended, you get a freakishly long plan that rarely -- if ever -- works.

Building a big-ass requires something else.

To paraphrase Thomas Edison, completing a complex project requires: Thinking big 1%, and thinking small 99% of the time.

Here's your game plan:

  1. Forget in-depth planning.

    Planning, as our motto goes, sucks. You can't possibly plan everything out. According to consultants Nadim Matta and Ronald Ashkenas: "Managers expect they can plan for all the variables in a complex project in advance, but they can't. Nobody is that smart or has that clear a crystal ball." Trying to be a planning perfectionist kills your time and resources because -- like chasing that bright-spankin' shooting star -- you'll never get there. In the meantime, someone's out there disrupting your plans with their inventions -- which will soon render your plans obsolete, anyway. Instead, quickly plan what's needed in the end -- then start kicking ass (i.e. acting, doing, physically working on something). A side benefit: Strangely, and fortunately, you'll gather more ideas when you're doing actually something.
  2. Focus on small wins.

    Small wins lead to that big-ass win. Great businesses don't become great because of one big swoop. They become great because they achieve a collection of small victories consistently over time. It's the same concept when you're building your big project: Focus on getting small wins. Create clear, focused, mini-milestones. Then start whooping butt.
  3. Get quick results. Then, determine if you'll progress further.

    Peep this scenario: You spend years building your software application; then when you finally develop it, you get absolutely no results from it. You trash the project within two weeks. It's happened numerous times with overly-complex projects to the Web 2.0 community, the aerospace industry, and the software crowd. Not only do big projects with one super long deadline drain resources, but they waste your precious time from doing something super-way-more productive: like getting results now. Instead of setting a long deadline, build something that will get you positive or negative feedback, quickly. That helps you determine if it's wise to progress further, conserving time and resources to focus on profitable projects.

"Blah. Blah. Blah. I want to get started on my big project now. What do I do?"

Here's one plan that we use at Trizzy (for our software, but it'll vary with your industry -- similar concept):

  • Build a "mini" project in 1 week.

    From scratch to finish, build a workable solution. That includes your product, product manuals, marketing materials, and whatever else that you'll include into the project.

And remember: Stick within the one-week deadline. This forces you to stop planning exhaustively, and gets you working on completing your project as quickly as possible. Once you complete your "mini" workable solution, you'll expand further with an "expanded mini" version. Then another "expanded" version. And so on -- until you finally complete that big-ass project. When you're building your next grand masterpiece, remember:

Think big. Build small. Then expand in bites.

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Posted on September 06

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