Making It Work: Finding Opportunities in Project Upheaval

Seth Godin writes in his book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable, “The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.” This is the mantra that keeps me going through every legal information content project I’ve been involved with as a knowledge engineer. But sudden and what often seem like inevitable changes in funding, timelines or resource allotment can be overwhelming. Being told to pivot or be resilient in the face of adversity without practical solutions is only so helpful.

I found myself in such a situation, as briefly mentioned in my post, Bringing Online Consumer Dispute Information and Resolution to Saskatchewan. In that project and others, I welcomed and am grateful for the specific tips I received to stop spinning, map out the rest of the project and get us to the finish line as efficiently and painlessly as possible. Here are a few things I learned to not only get through it but to come out with a more efficient, streamlined process to use for my next project:

1. Have a Clear Goal, Complete Buy in and Keep Reaffirming

Okay, this might be a bit unrealistic. I might as well recommend having a fully dedicated team who will work tirelessly and without complaint. But a clear and easily understandable goal is the key to the success of every project. Dickering over objectives take valuable time away from getting it out the door. Focus yourself and the team on the original goal as soon as possible. Once the goal is set and understood, keep bringing the team back to it if they start to stray. Always ask “How is this meeting the goal?”.

2. Confirm Rather Than Create

The purpose of subject matter experts is to bring their specialized knowledge to the project. They ensure the information is accurate to meet the needs of users. As the knowledge engineer, I’m not expected to be the expert but instead capture that expertise. But when push comes to shove and timelines are tight, consider learning as much in the subject area as possible and creating drafts, even if rough. Use your time with subject matter experts to confirm the information is correct rather than starting from scratch. You will move more quickly by providing them with even something to tear down and completely disagree with than a blank sheet of paper.

3. Be Definitive

Don’t unnecessarily revisit decisions and if possible, establish and involve the top decisionmaker as early as possible. When making decisions, ask yes/no questions and set quick deadlines. Ask “Does this work? (Yes/No)” rather than “What do you think?”. Once a decision is made, move on unless it can be plainly shown that the information is inaccurate or the outcome is contrary to your very clearly set goals. Tied to this is the following point.

4. Don’t Strive for Perfection

This is a tough one for us in the legal profession, but you will paralyze yourself and the project if you don’t accept and make the team accept that changes may have to be made after a project launches. This includes defining the difference between personal preference and accuracy. As mentioned above, the project must ship.

Most importantly and I hope you gathered from the second paragraph, reach out to others who have been there and ask for their guidance. And remember to pass that guidance on when the time comes.

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