Hitting a Dead End: Is Your Project Going Nowhere Fast?

RL05-05-2015We’ve all been there. Steadily making progress on a big project at work when all of a sudden—WHAM!—you hit a wall. All forward momentum comes to a screeching halt, and you’re left dazed, confused, and wondering what happened and why you just can’t seem to get back on track.

It’s a frustrating situation, but there are ways to break through your mental blocks and continue toward success on the other side.

Set it aside and come back later

Often, the best way to get past a mental block is to simply set the project aside for a while and work on something else.

The Coen brothers have brought us some of the most iconic movies over the past several decades. One in particular came about as a total fluke. While Joel and Ethan Coen were struggling with a severe case of writer’s block while writing the screenplay for their 1990 movie “Miller’s Crossing,” they set the script aside and began working on a completely new screenplay. A couple weeks later, they had finished writing “Barton Fink,” a movie about a screen writer struggling with his own writer’s block. After the mental break provided by “Barton Fink,” the Coen’s finished “Miller’s Crossing” and shortly after, began shooting “Barton Fink.”

In the end, a movie that emerged out of frustration with writer’s block went on to win top honors at the Cannes Film Festival and received critical acclaim.

When you find you’ve hit a dead end and your project seems be going nowhere fast, set it aside and focus on something new and unrelated. The mental “reset” may be exactly what’s needed to break through the wall.

Seek outside input

Sometimes it takes the culmination of several sources in order to get the full picture.

In American poet John Godfrey Saxe’s 1872 poem, “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” six blind men want to understand what an elephant looks like, but because of the part of the elephant they each approached, each man came away with a different understanding of the animal. One man grabbed the elephant’s leg and exclaimed the elephant must be like a tree. Another felt the trunk and decided the elephant is more like a snake. A third man felt the elephant’s tusk and concluded the elephant most resembles a spear. And another man approached the broad side of the elephant and assumed it is more like a wall. In the end, the blind men were unable to agree on what the elephant looks like because of their own, individual understanding of the beast.

Had the blind men sought outside help to put the individual pieces together, they may have been able to agree on a collective understanding of the elephant.

Seeking a trusted, outside source to provide a little perspective on a stalled project may be exactly what’s needed to get past all the little, individual complications and gain a better understanding of what you are really working toward.

Start over from scratch

Starting over from scratch doesn’t mean admitting defeat. Some of the most successful people in the world have failed and rebounded stronger than before.

Take billionaire businessman and investor Richard Branson for instance. Best known as the founder of Virgin Group, Branson has built a successful business empire, but he’s also seen his share of failures. From beverage companies to bridal wear to automobiles, he’s tried his hand at a wide range of ventures—some more successful than others. Yet, he has still managed to come out on top by not being afraid to take a risk, and perhaps more importantly, not being afraid to start from scratch and learning from each misstep along the way.

At a certain point, after you’ve exhausted all your options, pooled all your resources, called on all the experts, and you’re still not making any headway … it may be time to scrap the project and start over. However, this time around you’ll be armed with the power of hindsight and thus better prepared to get off on the right foot.

These are only three techniques for getting a project back on track. Now we want to hear what works best for you. In the comments section below, let us know your tried and true methods for getting a stalled project back on track and any tips you have for ensuring success along the way.

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One Response to Hitting a Dead End: Is Your Project Going Nowhere Fast?

  1. Bill Craig May 5, 2015 at 10:40 am #

    I have been a project manager my whole life, most of us are. I was when CEO, VP, GM, and PM on construction sites. Many projects do not lend themselves to setting aside (maybe for a few hours at best), scrapping and starting over in the planning stages may work, once into the project no. So the key is how do you make use of the only option that you have left from your scenario above using outside input? This involves knowing people whom you trust, have previously vetted, must be knowledgeable on the particular subject that has halted the job. Cause and effect understanding is essential and you must be opened minded to listen and understand this outside input. I could go on but I like the acknowledgement of this paper that briefly alludes to the fact that many projects hit a wall and it is up to you & me to figure out what solution we are going to use.

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