Your project is stalling and losing money? An easy way to right the ship


The team gets so deep into the project that they can’t see the forest for the trees. At this point, one can run into insurmountable difficulties. In this article, we will tell you how to deal with them by virtue of business therapy.

We’ll tell you how a position of a vice president helps the company: this person is often called to help when one of the projects has significant problems and needs to be urgently rescued.

Dive Deep: How the Shutterstock Founder Learned Photography

However, the first sentence gave you misleading information. The problem with most teams is that they don’t know when they need help. And only when a solution appears, they suddenly realize, “Why hadn’t we done this before.” People are sounding the alarm when the crisis has already happened and reached a certain climax. Therefore, by the time a vice president appeared on the project, all attempts to resolve problems in the usual ways (talking with top managers and owners of the client, reviewing finances, changing suppliers) have usually been made more than once and have not brought the expected result. The only way out is to delve very deeply into the core of the problem. And it’s better if someone from outside does this – it is much more likely for him to see what people who have been on the project for a long time do not notice.

How to find him in the company? This should be done by an open-minded person – a person who is ready to “fill in” a lot of new information into his brain. After all, it is necessary to thoroughly understand the details, even if the area in which the project is being implemented is very specific.

As for the position of a vice president, on the one hand, this high position often helps: people try to listen, to find time to explain something over again. On the other hand, it terribly disturbs sometimes. IT company teams are waiting for business analysts, programmers, but definitely not a vice president. Employees will accept you only when you master the information at the same level as they do, speak their language, put it that way. And it does not matter at all that you have only a few weeks or even days for this.

It is rational to use every time spot to gain this knowledge. A practical example of one of our colleagues: he once took the subway to work for a month to free up two hours a day for reading. He managed not only to study the specific automation standards in a very narrow field of energy, but also to find a detailed description of the foreign implementation of a system similar to the one in subject. What seemed impossible for a few days has become real and quite achievable.

The story of Jon Oringer, the founder of Shutterstock, one of the largest image banks, is quite amusing. Having not met worthy images anywhere in the agencies, he decided to study photography himself. The entrepreneur invested $800 in a camera and traveled around New York, its environs, and other cities with it. All the pictures that users bought at the start of the development of Shutterstock are taken by Oringer himself. Don’t be afraid to dive into the details, never reassure yourself that “this is not my level.”

Pay attention to the nuances that fundamentally change the result: how Steve Jobs did not want to present a computer with a scratch

After going through several stories of rescuing complex projects, one may come to a surprising conclusion: to move a project from complete failure to complete success, nothing needs to be changed. You may be fortunate to work with professional teams that were good per se but faced extraordinary challenges. Although it’s not about luck, but about the fact that great companies have great employees, but in complex projects their eyes are blurred and they stop noticing the nuances.

Steve Jobs, presenting the Apple II at the first West Coast computer show, became furious when he saw several scratches on the beige computer case. He immediately set about polishing it to a shine. The presentation went great. The Apple II looked solid compared to other metal-encased computers, although it was inferior to some of them in terms of technical characteristics. This shows that small but very important touches are usually enough to correct the situation. To do this, it is necessary to direct efforts in the right direction and close the existing gaps by means of an active team. You may ask a legitimate question – how to form it? The answer may surprise you. As a rule, the first impulse is to look for people in the market, because all the internal resources are already tied up. However, it usually takes months to find and train a new employee, and when you need someone new, the bill goes by days or weeks at best. If you followed the first advice and dived into the details, you would notice that suddenly people begin to cluster around to listen to you as they see you as the person who makes effective remarks and is able to give them the idea to save the project. These are the people you can rely on. They are already actively looking for a way out, which means they are quite motivated and know much more about the project than you do.

Preparing a synopsis of the work done: how Derek Forsyth came up with the legendary “Pirelli calendar”

Teams working on any project go into details and forget about fundamental things. However, these are the things that customers are actually interested in.

The most ordinary calendar helped the Italian company Pirelli, which produces car tires, to become famous all over the world. In 1964, art director Derek Forsyth made the fateful decision to publish not tires and their technical characteristics on the calendar, but fashion models who men associate with elegance and grace and, of course, a lavish lifestyle. Robert Freeman, the official photographer of The Beatles, was invited to work on the release of the Pirelli calendar, and all models went through a tough casting. As a result, the success of the calendar exceeded all expectations. He became a real sensation in the 1960s, and it was decided to release it annually. It would seem that if we are talking about the choice of tires, what do the snaps of girls have to do with it? The principle is important: clients often want to see something completely different from what they ask you for.

Let us tell you a story. For one project we once received a very large technical task. To be precise, the customer was waiting for a document with a size of almost 3 thousand pages, for almost every section of which he described the requirements in detail. However, the client forgot to leave wishes for one of the most important sections – the one that would unite all these technical blocks into a single system, explain the economic prerequisites for its creation and development strategy. None of the business analysts also did not think about it and did exactly what was required of them.

The suggestion was simple: to write no more than 100 pages of conceptual text in addition to the long documentation. One of the team members suggested making it as a picture book. Therefore, the document should have not only contained clearly formulated goals, objectives of the project and the basic principles of the proposed solution, but also be fairly diluted with a large number of illustrations. The team spent most of the time on this, following the previous advice, diving into the details.

When the first meeting with customer representatives took place, it turned out that each of them read only his own section of the document related to their direct work. At the same time, absolutely everyone got acquainted with the introductory part. It allowed them to get an idea of the operation of the system as a whole, and not of its individual parts. Despite the fact that neither in the contract nor during the negotiations on the project, no one demanded the creation of such a document, it turned out to be insignificant in scope, but had the biggest impact on the whole project. And thanks to the illustrations, it was also beautiful. Remember the photo of models from the Pirelli calendar – aesthetics is also important.

Track progress towards a goal: how a Pixar animator told an Oscar-nominated story in two minutes

There are other cases – teams lose vector in the process of work and forget about the goal. Many projects are cured quite simply when a person from outside reminds them about it.

All readers of this article are most probably aware of the triumphant result of the story that we about tell you. However, it didn’t start out happily. Pixar, a little-known company at that time, was preparing to participate in the SIGGRAPH 86 exhibition in Dallas. The event was only a few months away. Studio animator John Lasseter chose a table lamp as the hero of the video. The team decided to give up all the frills in order to have time to render a one-two-minute video. When the animator shared his pain with Raoul Servais, a respected Belgian animator, he reminded Lasseter that no matter how short a film is, it must have a beginning, a middle and an end. “We must not forget about history,” he stressed. Lasseter countered that his film was too small for that. “A story can be told in 10 seconds,” Servais replied. Indeed, the table lamp cartoon was not only nominated for an Oscar, but probably became one of the most recognizable 3D cartoons.

We often encounter a similar problem on the most serious projects. Customer representatives have new requirements and ideas every day. Employees begin to solve a lot of secondary tasks, rewrite a long specification from scratch in order to approve it with the customer, create reports, decide how to integrate a new database into architecture developed earlier, etc. But the goal of the project is completely different – it is the creation of an information system, and functioning not only on paper.

The experience often shows that the team is usually no longer able to see the forest for the trees. There was an example from our practice, in one of such projects, when participating in a meeting every week over and over again, as best one can, it was repeated: “Yes, I know that last night the customer decided to completely change the course of the project once again, and now all previous tasks are no longer relevant. But after all, we have the terms of reference, and we need to make a system according to it, so I want to know how much we have progressed in a week in the development of the originally planned software.”


Of course, at the end of the project, immediate needs were forgotten, and although page-turner ideas and important adjustments appeared during the work on the system, 90% of the solutions had remained the same as they were described in the original terms of reference. Just like Pixar’s animation of the table lamp baby, the timeless values of the story that every cartoon should have outweighed the importance of the technical aspects. And it is not so important that the client will insist that the new task is urgent and important, delegate the implementation of these wishes to only a small part of the team. But remember, you’ll be most probably nominated for an Oscar in your professional field for something else.