The Art of Managing Shiny Objects

Imagine this: you have been put in charge of a project and given an unreasonable deadline (deadlines are always impossible, right?). You get organized, get moving, and actually making progress towards getting it done. Then your boss says, “I don’t feel like I know what is going on with this project.”

Oops! You quickly prepare an update, maybe a sample of the work in progress, and sit down with your boss to go through details. They listen, praise you for where you are, and then says those words that cause a little drip of ice down your back: I’ve been thinking…

These words often introduce a chunk of additional work that promises to add a level of complexity that makes it challenging if not impossible to deliver the project on time.

So what do you do?

In over 30 years of managing projects small and large, I’ve heard these words more times than I’d like to count – and even, as an executive sponsor – said them myself a few times. Here’s are three techniques my team has handled it when I’ve done it to them and that use for managing the situation.

#1 It’s All About Your Delivery

How you respond to the new idea will directly impact your ability to manage the situation. Often when you hear those words, “I’ve been thinking…” your mind immediately starts to think tactically about all the reasons why that idea will derail your project.

Stop.

You need to stay present, and listen to what they’re thinking. If you listen, they are more likely to listen to you later. Explore their idea long enough to indicate that you’re listening and find some way to express excitement about it – even if the excitement is just a reflection of their excitement.

Find some way to gauge whether they are thinking its part of this phase of the project.

Don’t commit yet. Don’t say Yes or No. Ask for more time to figure out what it will take to fit it into the current project.

#2 Go Back to Your Business Objective

Even before you start work on your project, sit down with your boss (or your executive sponsor, if you’re the PM) and align on what the business objective is.

A business objective is the reason for doing the project, expressed in a way that will allow you to be crystal clear on why you’re doing this project. As an example, the business objective for rolling out new cash registers may be to speed up cashiering speeds and improve customer service.

Aligning on a clear business objective enables you to put new ideas in the context of that objective. You can point out how you’ll be able to focus on this idea once you’re sure the project will achieve the business objective.

It’s helpful here, to have a big board on the wall of your office that lists the project requirements for this phase, and the next phase. Then you can add this idea to the “next phase” column so that they see that it’s not going to be forgotten.

#3 Introduce a Change Request Process

A change request is a formal process that places new ideas in the cold light of day. It includes a statement of the project’s current business objective and summarizes where the project stands in terms of budget, timeline, and scope. It describes the new idea and how much more budget and time it will add to the project. It describes the risks of not implementing the change and any other options that you’ve explored.

Once you’ve done your homework and reviewed the change request details with your boss, they can make the decision in the cold light of day about whether to disrupt their project with their new idea or not.

. . .

Managing these situations require a cool head, patience, and practice.

What are some techniques you’ve found that works?

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