The project failure rate for businesses of all sizes is staggering. A well-known PWC study of more than 10,640 projects found that just 2.5% were completed successfully. Barely an improvement, the oft-cited Chaos Report from The Standish Group once reported that only 16.2% of projects annually were completed on time and on budget. The rate of success for smaller enterprises, where project management offices or even dedicated project champions are a rarity are predictably lower. In my experience, many of these failures are the result of not starting at all. And I’m not alone.
A recent study from Geneca of more than 600 business and IT executives found that fully 75% of them believe that their significant projects are always or usually “doomed right from the start,” with 27% of them stating that these efforts are always destined to fail. This matches the opinion of global project management consultancy Genioo, who contends that, “most projects fail even before they even start.” Think about the expensive consulting engagements that turn into expensive binders that start with great intentions on the center of someone’s desk … only to end up being used as a doorstop just a few short weeks later as the demands to work in the business immediately overtake those to work on it. Or it’s simply the case that the sheer size of the thing is so daunting that it feels impossible to know how or where to start, so they’d rather do anything, including trying to get to Inbox Zero, rather than start that giant thing without head nor tail. Other examples abound. But they all share a twine of common threads: small businesses failing at big projects because they never get around to working on them. Fortunately, though, the solution to this mess is simple: Just do something.
That’s right. Just walk up to the thing and do something, however small or seemingly insignificant, to break the force of inertia that is keeping the project stuck at stopped. You will be amazed at how that small action leads to another action and then another and then another and so on. Before you know it, you will have made significant progress along the path to completion.
This is something I learned as a boy when I painted oil tanks during the summer. If you’ve ever painted an oil tank, you know that they are just big and round and if it’s July or August, they’re hot. There’s nothing to suggest where or how to start painting them or even why. One can stare at an oil tank with brush, roller, pan and paint can for hours, wishing you were anywhere but staring at that oil tank. But the second the roller hits the tank anywhere, the entire complexion of things changes. One square foot has been painted … then two … then three … and before there’s even been time to make a complete plan, the thing is done and you’re in your truck driving to the next one. The routine for big projects in small business isn’t much different.
Stop staring at the oil tank and just start painting.
I can assure you that just by virtue of beginning, by doing something, that your success rate will soar past 16.2%. Because what stops most people from doing most things in life isn’t that they don’t do things well, it’s that they never even start them at all.
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