How to Get Big Projects Moving Forward

When you have a big project staring you in the face, what do you do? Or what do your people do? When you see a project like one of the following …

  • Create a new revenue stream
  • Open a new location
  • Create and launch a new product
  • Design a new employee performance review process
  • Hire a new CFO
  • Overhaul our marketing approach
  • Improve customer retention by 50%
  • Reduce operating expenses by 20%

How do you respond? If you’re like most people, chances are … you find something else to do, right? Big projects tend to overwhelm most of us because we already have too much on our plates.

In fact, let me just ask you, what big projects do you have on your list right now that you keep putting off? What things do you know need to be fixed in your business that you’re not taking care of right now? How about your people? I’m sure there are several.

So, what can you do to move those projects forward? My favorite advice to solving this problem comes from an author, Annie Lamont, who wrote one of my favorite books on writing called, Bird by Bird. The title derives itself from an experience her brother had when he was ten years old. Annie writes,

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he had three months to write. [It] was due the next day.  We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead of him.  Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.’”

Isn’t that great advice? Annie’s brother had a big project. He was given three months to complete it (sounds like a quarterly goal/objective). And just like most of us, he put it off until it was almost too late—which led to him being overwhelmed by the immensity of the task and his lack of time to complete it (sound familiar?).

Fortunately, he had a great dad who simply reminded him that the key to completing anything is to just focus on one part of the task (“Bird by bird”). Or, to use David Allen’s phraseology, to simply focus on the next actionable task.

In other words, while it helps to see a big project as a whole, the problem with treating a big project as a big project is that it tends to hinder action. Yes, in it’s completeness, a big project may be comprised of 10,000 tasks. But task #10,000 will never be reached if we don’t start, bird by bird, with the next actionable step.

For example, right now I’m getting ready to publish my first book. Writing a book is a task in and of itself, but getting it published and marketed is a whole different animal. Overwhelmed, I started breaking it down to bird by bird steps. Search and review the portfolios of book cover artists. Contact cover artist to get bid. Select vendor. Write out cover text. Create publisher name. Reserve domain name. Create book website. Find proofreader. Make final edits. Find publisher. Yada Yada Yada. You get the idea. Even at the bird by bird level, the project seemed overwhelming.

So then I had to do the, “Okay, but what’s the next actionable step?” And the answer was, “Search” Bingo. Action taken. Project moved forward.

Now, I’m under no illusion that you don’t know this idea or concept of small steps or next actionable tasks. However, my frequent observation of owners and entrepreneurs is that they (and their people) just don’t practice it that often. Big projects remain on the same lists quarter after quarter and year after year. Problems that should have been solved a long time ago aren’t. Why? Not because people don’t know the concept, they just don’t practice it.

So, back to your big projects that aren’t moving forward right now, why aren’t they moving forward? Is it because they still seem, “Big?” Maybe, just maybe, you need a bird by bird moment. Maybe you simply need to ask yourself today, “What’s the next actionable task?” and then do it. In fact, why don’t you do that right now. Before you do anything else, take one step toward completing that big project that’s been sitting on your “to do” list for way too long. You’ll be glad you did!

To your accelerated success!