Creating Projects

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There are two ways to imagine and plan for a project:

  1. Assembly – imagine the manifold tasks necessary to perform the project, then work upward into a grander purpose.
  2. Work Backward – have a grander purpose, then work backward into the necessary manifold tasks.

When it’s possible, the first is ideal.

  • It needs to have been proven elsewhere.
  • The project can’t be beyond a humanly comprehensible amount of complexity.
  • The tasks need to be clearly defined.

The second, however, can be used universally.

  • All you need is a vision, even if it’s not possible.
  • When the situation proves the project impossible to achieve, you will need to move the project goals.
  • Moving project goals requires both mental flexibility to change and the social skills to influence others to new truths.

A. Have a Vision

Before even beginning to dive into teams and projects, build a clear vision of what the team will need to do:

  • Will the project have many interconnected tasks (and require more communication) or are each of the tasks relatively independent of each other?
  • Is the task relatively straightforward, or more abstract?
  • What qualitatively or quantitatively defines if the project is a success or failure?
  • What rewards will the members receive if they do well at the project?

Reflect your vision with your lifestyle.

  • Your own way of life should reflect on the projects and goals you’re aspiring to achieve.
  • Associate with other people who constantly challenge your ideas.
  • Stay creative, and continually seek out new experiences and new ways to see the world.
  • If you don’t constantly seek new information and points of view, your group will influence you enough that you’ll become stagnant through a leader-member cultural feedback loop.

B. Establish Values

With that idea in place, clarify the values you want to see with your workers.

  • These values are philosophical concepts that take precedence over others (e.g., kindness, strength, curiosity).
  • Your values will then resonate with the 3 R’s:
    1. Recruit – selecting people who share those values.
    2. Reward – promoting people who reflect those values.
    3. Release – letting go of people who don’t share those values.
  • Closely consider the story of the group and where it came from, since that determines where it’ll go next.

Clarify any critical customs or habits that will reinforce those values.

  • You’re trying to foster a culture which reinforces the values you believe should show themselves.
  • If your team has any creative people, the best cultural values you can introduce are extremely simple, with the expectation that they will find meaning in adding their own flair to it out of boredom.

C. Pick a System

There are a variety of existing project systems to choose from, and even more if you draw inspiration from logistics.

Areas of Operation (AOs):

  • The system divides out the roles and responsibilities to specific individuals:
    1. Designate sub-leaders who are exclusively responsible for specific, non-overlapping domains.
      • The domains can be contiguous (shares a boundary with other sub-leaders) or non-contiguous (not sharing a boundary).
    2. That sub-leader is responsible for that domain, and their management performance is defined by their results.
      • If any members fail, that sub-leader is exclusively responsible.
  • While the system works very well for clearly defined goals with clearly-defined actions (e.g., military activities), it’s very inflexible to changes and doesn’t accommodate the individuals’ situations or ideas.

The Waterfall Model:

  • The system step-by-step sequence across 5 phases to carry the project to completion:
    1. Requirements – outline the high-level conditions that determine a project’s success.
    2. Design – create solutions that meet the requirements, often considering backup plans as well.
    3. Implementation – pick a design and use technology to apply it.
    4. Verification – test whether the implementation worked.
    5. Maintenance – keep testing and fixing anything that breaks.
  • It requires specific goals from the very beginning.
    • It works on hard deadlines and treats every task as “final”.
    • Any failures from previous process steps roll into later process tasks.
  • This system doesn’t handle unexpected problems very well.

Objectives and Key Results (OKR):

  • The system is designed to achieve clearly-understood purposes:
    1. Make an objective that is significant, concrete, and clearly defined.
      • Further, the objectives should inspire everyone working toward them.
      • Avoid a “business as usual” attitude, which means avoiding vague words like “help” and “consult”.
    2. Each objective should have 3-5 key results, which are measurable either as 0-100% or a numerical value.
      • Aim to measure leading indicators (readily measurable things) instead of lagging indicators (things that measure after a lead time).
      • The target success rate for key results should be 70%, since it encourages competitive goal-making.
      • If the key results are consistently hit at 100%, they should be re-evaluated.
    3. If necessary, objectives can be supported by initiatives, which are plans and activities that help move forward the objectives and key results.
  • One of the downsides of the system is that on the individual level the entire project simply looks like a task list, which makes it very easy for managers to conflate OKRs with performance reviews.

Agile Methodology:

  • The system is designed for when project goals aren’t entirely clear:
    1. Break the project into sub-projects, called “sprints”.
    2. At the end of a sprint, everyone reviews the work and makes adjustments for the next sprint.
    3. In difficulties come in the middle of a sprint, make smaller sub-projects within that sprint with newer, smaller goals.
    4. Repeat until complete.
  • The original idea was from software development, where the goals and possible risks aren’t always perfectly clear.
    • The system revises every development stage as the situation changes.
    • Other variations of Agile like Scrum or Lean add more structure.


  • The system is a very flat management structure designed around a constitution made of 5 modules, which everyone is expected to follow:
    1. Organizational structure
      • Defines an exact format for roles, responsibilities, and rules.
    2. Rules of cooperation
      • Defines what everyone should expect from each other.
      • Clarifies duties involving everyone being transparent with each other, how they process others’ requests, and how everyone should prioritize work.
    3. Tactical meetings
      • Gives specific standards for how to run meetings and keep them efficient.
      • Also prevents from anyone dominating the meeting or distractions about unrelated discussions.
    4. Distributed authority
      • Speeds tasks up by granting partial autonomy without needing prior approval.
      • Creates constraints to prevent abuse of that autonomy.
    5. Decentralized governance process
      • Creates a process for making improvements or changes within the scope of each person’s work.
      • Gives limits to prevent anyone abusing the governance process.
  • The system gives everyone power to self-manage, which is a very effective system if everyone is trustworthy to self-direct.
    • If everyone depends heavily on each other, though, it can cause severe breakdowns in communications and activities and be worse than micromanagement.

D. Clarify Constraints

Every project has specific purposes and constraints:

  • You should know why every project, as well as projects connected to them, exist.
  • Stay aware of the project’s final deadline, along with what a perfect project completion would look like.
  • Track how much everything will likely cost, the existing budget, and the consequences for going over budget.

After all that, examine the space you’re working in.

  • Consider the location and how it’ll connect to the culture and work environment.

Make a thorough list of all the software, equipment, tools, and supplies everyone will possibly need for the work.

  • You’re trying to gather as much information as possible, which will create the ceiling of the necessary resource load.

Consider the project’s necessary inputs and outputs:

  • Money
  • Hours
  • Required research
  • Ideas
  • If it’s a creative project, the story points, outlines, and key ideas
  • If it’s marketing-based, sales strategies and closed leads
  • If it’s working with many people, required plans of action for specific events
  • If it uses technology, whether it needs tech management, existing code or documentation

E. Make Plans

Make goals that clearly indicate exactly what you want.

Consider all available resources, including more abstract ones:

  • Available people
  • Ideas
  • Positional and temporary advantages
  • From a different perspective, most risks can actually be advantages (e.g., unemployment creates available free time).

Start with the larger goals, then split them into smaller ones.

  1. Clearly get your mind around the goals.
    • Write out each objective and what you expect of it as a 250-word paragraph.
    • Set measurable numbers to track each objective.
  2. Divide the goals into future periods.
    • Annual objectives are extremely large-scale and necessary for long-term planning.
    • Quarterly objectives divide out annual objectives.
    • Monthly and weekly objectives are focused on accomplishing quarterly results.
    • If you have a difficult time imagining 12 months in the future, simply think 3 months out and then extrapolate it 4 times.
  3. Make schedules for both a worst-case and best-case scenario.
    • The actual schedule will likely be near the middle.
  4. At each interval, update the short-term goals and timing for all future objectives.
    • It can help to track previous periods’ projections versus results to better estimate the numbers.
  5. Every quarter, compile a summary of achieved objectives.
    • For each objective, write a paragraph articulating whether you achieved it any what everyone learned.
    • Include metrics that most clearly indicate where the group struggled or thrived.
    • Describe precisely how the events happened, as well as how the organization could have done better or continue succeeding.
  6. Every year, estimate the next year.
    • The outline of next year’s annual report are the previous year’s objectives.

F. Take Extra Time For Human Resources

A team of people is more like a small community than any type of system.

  • Each person will interact with other people, creating a group culture that frames it as a unique entity.
  • Across teams, an organization is more like an ecosystem than a formal structure.

The team’s composition adapts further constraints and opportunities:

  • Look at everyone’s roles and responsibilities, including what people believe about who is really in charge.
  • There’s usually a maximum logistical limit for how often each member is able to meet.

If you’ve inherited a prior project and team, you’re walking into a new culture and your presence will create a ripple to how everyone does things.

  • Have a transition speech prepared that will quickly and precisely articulate how you’re similar and different from the prior manager.
    • If you don’t know how the prior manager was, openly ask the members how they used to do everything.
    • Do not presume that the way you did things elsewhere applies here: even highly rigid systems can easily have permutations in how things get done.
  • Your natural disposition to favor anyone differently than the last manager is guaranteed to create workplace politics.
  • Most of the group will not adapt quickly to your approach, but the ones who do may simply be power-hungry.

Next: Hiring & Firing Teams