I learned a new word this week. A boondoggle is defined by Wordnick as “an unnecessary or wasteful project or activity”. Many personal boondoggles spring to mind, and there are numerous subjective lists to be found. What I find interesting is the slight variation in how the word is defined by Collins Dictionary: “People sometimes refer to an official organisation or activity as a boondoggle when they think it wastes a lot of time and money and does not achieve much.” And Wikipedia is similar: “A boondoggle is a project that is considered a waste of both time and money, yet is often continued due to extraneous policy or political motivations.”
One person’s success is another person’s failure, and vice versa. In financial services, many a bank or building society would consider fintech startup projects boondoggles, in that they are futile and expensive to get going. The fintech company may think there’s a boondoggle to be found in overpopulated boardrooms up and down the country. Both are right and wrong.
I’m a positive thinker, as many of us are at ieDigital. We practice due diligence when we embark on projects, and try to resist the usual suspects that create obstacles. Let’s list a few of those that often lead to project abandonment, as well as useful solutions to avoid the boondoggle.
For instance, project managers believe being agile will solve everything, and will always lead to success. And with enough money, you can create anything. With thorough planning and due diligence, you can foresee outcomes much better, and you don’t necessarily have to commit to a ridiculous budget to achieve goals. Projects are typically abandoned because costs spiral out of control, yet this can be avoided by putting in plenty of thinking time.
Assumptions about what we can do
Hubris can lead to mistakes. We can’t do everything, and recognising this simple fact leads to recruiting expertise where it’s needed most. When the right team is assembled, the project can get underway. Recruiting expertise late in the process can make things messy, and inevitably leads to scope creep and project abandonment.
Good planning and solid expertise is a good start, but communication is the lubricant that leads to smooth outcomes. Good things occur when information flows easily. People share common goals, there’s more understanding of what’s at stake, and there’s consensus around what it takes to create successful outcomes. When everyone is involved – internally and sometimes externally – completed projects are more likely.
It takes a team to create a successful project. Without being able to monitor processes right across the business, mining every skill level, your project may fall too easily. Complicated projects are jigsaw puzzles that are quicker to finish with many hands. Imagine monitoring nearly everything, yet missing a few important pieces because certain people or departments weren’t included in the project plan. That’s a disaster waiting to happen, which could lead to (yes, you guessed it) project abandonment.
Perhaps the most indispensable part of a successful project is having people responsible for navigation. Without leadership, projects can fly out of control. They need to be managed carefully, and not just regarding practical concerns, budget management, and maintaining a schedule. There’s also the emotional benefits of motivation, influence, visibility, and generally leading by example by being interested and engaged in the project.
These are just a handful of the things we think about when we’re about to embark on a new project, whether it’s for ourselves, or for a client and its customers. Thinking time is crucial! So, even though the new year is an arbitrary moment to think about new goals and projects, it’s a popular time for doing so. We hope that when you sit and reflect on how your business is running and how it could do better, that these tips are useful.
There’s so much going on in the world, with many challenges to think about. The reality is that the world will never quieten. It’s always noisy and challenging! The best mindset to have is “what should we do next?”, and then get on with it. Think about your project, spend time developing it, bring different people with different skills onboard early, set a realistic budget and realistic goals, communicate why it’s a good project and answer every question. Then, and only then, should you start working on it. Here’s to avoiding the boondoggle in 2022!