Project lacking clarity? 3 steps to starting off on the right foot

Seth Marrs

The L'Orangerie museum in Paris houses a cycle of 8 giant Monet paintings called "Les Nympheas". Each painting is 6.5 feet tall and, when put all together, are 298.5 feet long. Imagine the stops, starts and conflicting ideas Monet went through when deciding where to put that 1st stroke on the canvas. To complete this masterpiece he had to make his first stroke in the right place that would set him up for the second, third, fourth etc...

While I'm sure he made many adjustments along the way, the decisiveness of that first stroke set the stage for the 1900+ square feet of brush strokes to follow.

In the business world these problems present themselves daily. When confronted with a large complex project, where you decide to start is key to determining success and failure. Many problems stagnate with no one willing to decide where to start.

The team gathers in a room to talk through a complex problem with a simple name. Something like: "Improve our go to market process." Everyone agrees this is an important problem yet the project stalls. When you get into the details you find that everyone in the room identifies the project name with a specific issue important to them. You end up with a group of people positioning themselves to get their individual problem solved and no one pushing to understand the best place for the overall project to start.

When you’re confronted with a blank one of these…where do you start?

The next time you're dealing with a project where you can't seem to get past confusion and lack of clarity, follow these three steps.

#1: Bring focus to your most important stakeholder: your customer

Everyone needs to turn the team’s perspective to the customer view and de-prioritize all issues that don't produce a positive benefit for the customer. Any internal issues are secondary.

#2: Define the biggest problem your customer is facing

This narrows the conversation to the most important issue to solve. Your team will still be focused on their part of the process but will focus on only one aspect. Complexity requires focus; the key is to make sure your focus is on the area providing the biggest impact.

#3: Start at the beginning of the chain

All processes have a start and an end. If you break something at the start, everyone down the chain deals with the issue. Fix a problem in the first of a 10 step process and you eliminate that issue in the rest of the steps. Solve that problem and then take the next one in the chain and so on. You're likely to find that by the time you get to the end of the chain the problems you thought lived in step 10 were actually caused by the issues in the previous steps.

Many projects never progress because complexity creates lack of focus and decision making. Imagine every person in your team picking up a paint brush and painting their own section of Monet's work. When you look at the finished result everyone would be happy with their section but no one would be happy with the overall result. Coordinate your strokes and you can turn any project into a masterpiece.