Projects are easy to start but not all of them are shepherded through to a finish. Some fizzle and are left out in the cold to die. I want to see more of my projects end successfully rather than fizzle so I’ve been thinking about the possible end-states of the finish.
What are all the possible ways that a project can “end” successfully? Here are some ideas I’ve sketched out. These are in no particular order:
- Goals surpassed.
- Goals achieved.
- The project is complete (i.e. there are no more project activities to perform).
- The project has reached a state of critical mass, and the potential exists to grow or maintain the project with continued activity.
- The project failed.
Maybe there are more but these seem to be the ones I encounter most often. (And as I re-read the list, I wonder if some of them overlap). I call all of these a “finish” or an “end” because you get to the point in the project’s timeline when you reach one of these and you make the choice about what to do next.
Even project failure is a type of “successful” finish (in that it is an end-state that you have reached by the end of your project timeline, and now you have the choice to do something about it or to kill it and go on to something else). Compare this with the problem of not finishing, which means that you start something and then let it fizzle — perhaps because the effort became too mundane or because you allowed adversity to overwhelm the project… so the project doesn’t really end but it also doesn’t really go anywhere at all.
So I guess an end-state is a point in time that you have worked towards your goal and now you can evaluate where you are and decide what to do next. (While an unsuccessful project is one where you don’t have that at all).
Let’s look at each of these end-states:
Goals surpassed. Great! Congratulations on achieving this rare level of success. You set goals on your project and you have blown past them. This is really exciting. Now it’s time to think about setting new goals — stretching goals — and work toward those.
Goals achieved. This is a very good end. Something you can be proud of. Not all projects get here and you have worked hard to get to this point. Now it’s time to think about what’s next. If there is still some opportunity to pursue in this project then go for it!
The project is complete (i.e. there are no more project activities to perform.). Sometimes a project doesn’t have a life beyond the project timeline. When you finish raking the leaves on your lawn, you’re done. There aren’t more to do (unless you want to come over to my house to do it). You can be proud of your finish because you completed the effort and there is no more to do.
The project has reached a state of critical mass, and the potential exists to grow or maintain the project with continued activity. This is an end-state for ongoing projects — like a blog, for example. When starting your project, you should create a goal. It shouldn’t be something like “I’m going to start a blog” but rather something like “I’m going to start a blog and write 25 blog posts and then measure my traffic results.” Once you reach that critical mass, your project is done… even if the thing you’ve built has more work to be done. Getting to this point is still a successful “finish”, even if it’s kind of a milestone rather than an actual end to the project.
The project failed. I still call this a finish because at least you got to the point in your project timeline where you could assess what you’ve done and then decide what to do next. There is nothing wrong with failure. But as someone who starts a lot and doesn’t finish enough, I’d rather fail at this point than to fail because I didn’t do enough to move a project forward.
THINKING ABOUT YOUR END-STATES BEFORE THE PROJECT STARTS
Don’t wait until your project is nearing the end to think about these end-states. Think about them ahead of time… before you even start the project.
Set goals for your project and then think about what each of these end-states would look like. And start thinking about what you’ll do in case you reach each of these end-states. For example, if your project surpasses your goals, does that mean you should find a way to move forward? Or, if your project fails, does that mean you should end the project or should you try something different?
Create a simple chart for your project with the relevant potential endings on them, and some notes about what you should do if that happens.
Finishing. It’s all about getting to an end state where you can choose what to do next with your project.