5 Signs You’re Wasting Your Time On A Project

Working on a project is easy. Working on the right project is hard. Especially considering that the definition of what constitutes the right project might change during the project’s lifetime,” says Valentin Kravtchenko, CEO of portable hotspot company Grey-box and project management expert.

Few things are as frustrating as investing precious resources into an initiative only to realize that you’re wasting your time. Yet despite the best efforts of smart people in organizations of all kinds, it happens all the time.

The two parallel lives of a project

Don’t panic. It’s better to figure out whether you’re working on the wrong project sooner than later. But before coming to a conclusion, it’s important to understand the two parallel worlds in which any project exists.

1. Team effort

“First, a project exists as a team effort since we tend to solve complex problems by assigning people to them,” says Kravtchenko. “And people need motivation because they will quickly start asking why they are doing this. If they are in good hands, their manager will be able to answer their questions by providing them with the context surrounding the specific problem that the project is trying to solve.”

And since managers won’t be around all the time, understanding the driving force behind a project allows a team to autonomously make decisions on a day-to-day basis while staying motivated to progress. It also helps team members raise red flags if they are heading in a direction that contradicts their initial target as far as the problem they are trying to solve and the time they estimate it will take.

2. Company-wide portfolio

But a project also lives outside of the team that is working on it, inside what Kravtchenko calls the “almost-abstract world of portfolio management where all projects exist at the same time.”

These can be “plotted on a timeline, financial report, Gantt chart, some market studies, an idealistic strategic plan or various KPI breakdowns.”

According to Kravtchenko, portfolio managers — or senior execs — are, by design, distanced from the daily reality of each project. They mostly see performance reports and get high-level updates and have to make decisions that can dramatically impact the existence of a project. And they have to consider sometimes competing interests.

“If a project is slower than expected, should we intervene? Add more resources to it? Cut resources and allocate them to a new, shiny project? How much risk should we take on each project? Is that project vital to another project that will be worked on in a few years? If we cut that project, how would stakeholders react?”

Plus, there are politics involved. “Discussions about portfolios and their projects can be extremely factual but also political,” he says.

Signs you’re wasting your time on a project

So now that you understand the dynamic, complex ecosystem in which a project exists, you can start assessing whether you’re wasting your time on a project or whether to keep going. The five signs below might indicate it’s time to cut your losses — or, at the very least, reinvent the project.

1. You can’t quite remember why you started

Do you have the right solution to the wrong problem? “Make sure that you understand — and can explain — the reason for your project and its impact over time through a few different angles,” suggests Kravtchenko.

It’s so easy to lose perspective when you’re dealing with obstacles and new developments on a regular basis, so this is a reflection exercise you want to repeat a few times through a project’s lifespan.

2. You are applying existing solutions to new problems

“A project is not a walk in the park on a well-paved road. If you’re lucky, you may encounter a partial trail running through a dirt path, but you’ll still need to cut your way through a forest of new problems that will require you to find new solutions,” adds Kravtchenko.

According to him, if you’re trying to copy and paste an existing solution to a new problem, you’re no longer working on a project, you’re in a production environment. And experience can be a blind spot. “For example, an experienced java developer might want to stay in her comfort zone and try to force technical solutions on a problem that would be better served by another language.”

If you find yourself applying existing solutions to new problems, it’s time to challenge the idea of your project in its current form.

3. You find yourself micromanaging every detail

Also, if you find yourself micromanaging every detail of a project, it might be an indicator that you’re wasting your time.

“Micromanagement and a lack of motivation can also result in a team just doing what you asked of them without getting attached to the result,” says Kravtchenko. “And yet their output does not provide value to the project as a whole.”

Sounds familiar? Either chuck the project or revisit it in a way that allows your team to understand the bigger context and avoid wasting energy. “They need to understand what stakeholders want and need so they can work on tasks with those elements in mind.”

4. Your project works provided nobody touches anything

Your project might look perfect. Until one request feels like pulling the fatal block on an intricate Jenga structure. But this can be a blessing in disguise, as it can help you realize which portions of your solution are not viable and create better ones.

5. Others can’t seem to get motivated to work on your project

Finally, if people don’t want to touch your project with a ten-foot pole, it’s a clear sign something is off. “If no one on the team is motivated by a project, you have to take a break and assess the situation,” says Kravtchenko.

“The project might still be vital to some organizational strategic plan, but if the team’s heart is not into it, the quality of work will invariably take a hit.”

But let’s say working on it is imperative. You can try shuffling team members around, planning for some quick wins to boost morale, reiterating the why of the project, and taking the time to listen to your team. “If nothing works, consider outsourcing the work and reassigning the team to more interesting projects while asking some team members to supervise the outsourced project,” he says.

Hive is the world’s first democratically built productivity platform. Learn how we can help you, here.