Is there anything better than landing a dream project? A dream project is one that your agency has always wanted to do – working with a client, product or industry that’s totally awesome and rocks your world. Projects like apparel companies, lifestyle brands, breweries, wineries, distilleries (all booze usually comes with a coolness badge), popular services and in-demand brands. You land it, and everyone erupts in joy and tears like you were the last girl who got offered a rose from The Bachelor, after he made out with half the other agencies in town to see if it’s a “good fit.”
Your agency kicks things off with gusto, patting yourselves on the back and posting approximately 30 humble brag photos on Instagram so everyone knows how totally relevant you are, unlike those guys. There’s a buzz. People are brainstorming. Creativity is flowing. Meetings have a lot of ooooh’s and aaaah’s. Your team is thrilled, the momentum is electric, and you are all so awesome for having landed this thing.
Then the work starts. And it goes on and on. It’s taking longer than expected. The shine starts to dull. The meetings become less exciting. The client seems high maintenance. The creatives start to grumble. The Project Manager is frustrated. The Account Manager is pushy. And suddenly that super sexy project has turned into just another project your team needs to finish so you can get paid.
It’s easy to believe that cool projects have a lower likelihood of burnout and higher likelihood of finishing on time, but is that the case? In our experience, with every project you hit some speed bumps and the homestretch to final delivery can be grueling – especially if the work is taking too long.
Here are practical tips we’ve incorporated to make sure we end up at the finish line without the project fatigue:
SET A FINISH DATE
On all of our Project Briefs at Ambient, we have a section titled Timeline. It’s an actual date from modern mankind’s calendar as we know it. Internally we lovingly refer to this as the Accountability Calendar, because once the date has been stated and the client has seen it, it’s a lot harder to blow past deadlines or use smoke-and-mirror tricks to parlay concrete sounding terms like “60 Days” into indecently longer stretches of time. Honestly, it sucks to be accountable. But also, when a project is delivered to a client on time (or very shortly thereafter) it totally RULEZ. Yes, with a Z like it’s 1984.
IDENTIFY CRITICAL TASKS
What specifically needs to happen for project objectives to be met? Every project is made up of components requiring their own deadlines for successful ultimate delivery. Not all tasks are created equal. Identify the important parts that require the best work and carry the most weight. Chances for beating the project doldrums increase significantly when the parts that count are completed on time.
After identifying the important tasks, it’s important to determine the appropriate amount of time required to complete those tasks. This seems obvious and most agencies have systems in place to nail down how long every team member’s portion will/should take. But one of the biggest problems in project management is lack of focus and time wasted on things that don’t matter. The amount of time spent on a task should be determined by both the scope of the work required and the project’s budget. A small company’s rebranding should get an agency’s best creativity and effort in the time befitting the project budget and not the time it takes to paint the Sistine Chapel. We try to avoid project fatigue by scheduling the major components of our projects to be completed in two week intervals.
In our inspirational quote society, sometimes something as seemingly obvious as “hard work” can get lost in a cloud of Simon Sinek romanticism. Yes, you should follow your dreams, only take on magical unicorn-level work, start with why, don’t sell out, make room for YES, be like Seth Godin, and all inspiring things. Good for you for having goals, Power Dreamer. But for the glorious work to pay the bills and for more dreams to come true, the work has to get done. Occasionally, a few lectures and motivational speeches have to be doled out, late night work sessions scheduled, Mexican food binge-eat meetings called, locked-behind-closed-doors, leave-me-alone tantrums tolerated, but you push through the pain and get the job done.
We believe that when a project wraps up, the team should celebrate. Projects – especially grueling ones – have a way of bringing people together. Especially when thank you’s and free food and drinks are handed out at their completion. Though it seems contradictory, typically the longer a project has taken, and the bigger the scale of the fatigue and frustration, the less victorious it feels to finally finish. Meeting deadlines not only bypasses exhaustion but creates pride and connection amongst the team. It’s not easy to move forward and keep momentum and those who pulled their weight and got the job done will appreciate the opportunity to party.
Do you have any good ideas for beating project fatigue? Share them with us. We’d love to get better. And we’ll quote you in our next blog. firstname.lastname@example.org