There are three parts to every project, starting, finishing and everything in between. Two parts of the process are very difficult to complete, starting and finishing. This is not a tutorial on project management, as much as it is a general guide for people involved in a project. For example, lots of people have ideas. Ideas are easy because they require very little risk. But, what happens after the idea? You are supposed to start the project. However, most people stop with the idea because they “don’t have time” or even “I wouldn’t know where to begin”. Kat French explains how she does her best creative work:
The super-secret, hush-hush, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you” secret of how I do my best creative work. Ready? It’s called “starting.” The recipe is.. there is no recipe. This isn’t science. It’s more like alchemy. There are ingredients. Usually those ingredients have certain effects. When you put them all together and apply heat…”results may vary,”
Starting does not mean that everything will go well or that you will be successful. Starting just means that you took the initiative to start, and that probably puts you ahead of the majority of workers out there. In order for a project to be successful, you have to start at some point. Most people are not good starters, they need some core foundation or baseline to start with. Some people also need the structure of a formal project management methodology or a detailed task list. The term “self-starter” has been abused by the whole recruitment/HR industry to become someone who can do their own work without significant prodding. What do you call someone who can take an idea and start a project? Some people may throw the title “entrepreneur” at that person, but it also has other meanings. The key is that this person can start something. Are you that person?
One problem is that the starter may not be very good at filling in the various details of the project or finishing the project. Starters may be excited by the novelty of a project, but once you get mired in details, the novelty has worn off. By the time you are trying to finish the project, the starter is probably bored or even hates his job. Given that we know that no project is ever really done, you might be able to keep the starter happy by having them begin work on the next phase of the project or a significant new feature.
At the other end of the project is completion. Starters typically do not fare well as a finisher of a project. As an example, look at the typical software development project. At the beginning of the project, there is a lot of technology research and foundation or framework code that needs to be completed. Starters love that work. At the end of a project, most of the work is in validating and correcting defects, and working with other departments to ensure deployment goes smoothly. A finisher is the person that works well juggling multiple tasks, fixing defects and managing processes to completion. Obviously, this is a very different person than the starter. The finisher loves a detailed task list as it gives them a goal. If they complete all of these tasks, it is likely that the project has reached its conclusion and the application has been deployed.
However, you cannot always be really finishing a project, so how do you keep the finisher happy? Similar to the starter, you can have the finisher move from one project or feature to another. They are a nice complement to the starter in terms of the tasks to be completed. Are you a finisher?
But how do you have one project look like several? In project management, a large project is broken into phases, which are really just smaller projects. If you do not have a really large project, you can create smaller projects by looking for milestones in your project. Agile methodologies take this concept to the extreme by ensuring that there is a fixed time for each iteration. In some cases, an iteration could be long enough to implement one feature. So, each feature in your product could become an iteration or a small project.
So, we have talked about starting and finishing, but what about the stuff in between? Someone needs to fill in the details. I started by calling this person a filler, but that does not sound like a good name for someone. So, I will call this person an implementer. This person takes the basic infrastructure and puts the application features on top of it. They create the web forms and the code to save the data, using the frameworks provided by the starter. Most people fall into this category because it has the broadest spectrum of work. Each web page or feature may look like a new project for them. They may not require a detailed task list, depending upon experience, but they look at the requirements and fill in the details. Are you an implementer?
Because most projects are full of details, the implementer has plenty of work to do. They can be moved from project to project filling in the gaps that the starter and finisher do not complete. Given that there are so many details in projects, this is where a project manager will spend a bulk of their time, managing the implementers. Implementers will also be the most diverse group of people, so management of these people could be a daunting task as well.
Of course, the next question from people would be who is most valuable. For that question, I give you a quote from a Seth Godin post about linchpins:
A newspaper asked me the following, which practically set my hair on fire:
What inherent traits would make it easier for someone to becoming a linchpin? Surely not everyone can be a linchpin?
Each of these types of people are important. What good is a starter if there is nobody there to finish? If you have a finisher, who starts the project in the right direction? Once the project is started someone needs to fill in the details, and that is not the starter or the finisher. There are some of those rare people that can take a project from start to finish, and there are others that overlap into two of the three groups. But you should be honest with yourself. What are you good at? Starting? Finishing? The stuff in between?
Having performed each of these duties, here's my take on it. Being a Starter is the most fulfilling and rewarding from a personal perspective. To build something from nothing is a difficult process and doing so gives you unteachable experience. A Finisher is the most difficult and rewarding from a professional perspective. It's even harder to bridge the last mile of any project and the devilish details that encompasses. Project stakeholders generally recognize that and it gets you noticed. The Implementer does the most tedious and unrecognized work. However, without them, nothing both the starter and finisher will fail. These are the contract jobs that require quick learning skills. This is the grunt work that everyone maker will have to do at some point or another.
Given the choice, I would like to see every project I work on, personally or professional, from beginning to end. That is an unrealistic expectation as they all require very different skillsets. The Starter has to recognize opportunity and bring order from chaos. The Implementer has to be able to understand the Starter's vision and be able to generate the quality and quantity of work to push the project towards its conclusion. The Finisher has to be able to quickly identify and fix problems bring a development project to production quality.