Succeeding At Project: Impossible

We’ve all had to stare this one down before. The impossible project with no chance at succeeding. The one that’s DOA – before arrival. The project that everyone is already trying to get out of being assigned to. The one that has people shaking their heads in the hallway. The one where the word “failure” is on everyone’s lips. What do you do when you’re the project manager for a project that can’t succeed? Here are three steps to take when your project management skills are put to the test.

Step One

Tom Cruise did his own skydiving stunts for Mission Impossible. Why does an actor with nothing left to prove insist on doing his own movie stunts, when he doesn’t have to? Because it’s authentic, it owns the role, and it’s a new challenge. Whatever you do in your role as project manager for the impossible project, own your role, challenge yourself, and be authentic. Set a benchmark for your team, and be a role model, too. Don’t run away from the situation, or you’ll spark a mass exodus among the troops. Lead from in front, and do your own stunts – it’ll command respect, show you’re taking the project seriously, and inspire people to do the same.

Step Two

Every Mission: Impossible movie features a person suspended by a cable while breaking into a location – it is a series trademark. Projects that are seen as doomed to fail are usually impossible to accomplish by standard processes – you, as the project manager, need to think of a workaround that can crack the impossible project wide open. Think out of the box. You aren’t able to walk through the door…but no one said you can’t come through the window. (And yes, Tom Cruise did this stunt on his own, too.) Sometimes, project management is about coming through the window on a hose.

Step Three

Mission: Impossible II was written by choosing the action sequences they wanted in the film, and assembling a script around it. This was so much the case that the writing team was still hard at work finishing the script after filming had been completed. When it comes to Project: Impossible, you’ll want to script your project management plans around the action sequences, too. Play to the strengths of your team. Get people working, quickly, on the things they’re good at. When things are taking shape, you can then slot what is left around the work that’s been done. This isn’t conventional, but when you’re up against the impossible, it’s a great way to start.

Key Takeaways

The impossible project can still be done. Unorthodox methodology can make a difference.

  1. Get involved, own your role, and challenge yourself. Set the tone as a role model, and your level of buy in and commitment will become the benchmark for the team.
  2. Use out of the box thinking and find the workaround. Traditional methodology isn’t going to work for an impossible project.
  3. Script your project around the action sequences – get people doing what they’re good at, build momentum, and swing the perception of the project (and its odds of success) from “impossible” to “happening.”