Most of us are in goal-setting mode right about now. We’re making lists of all the great things we will accomplish in 2010. Alas, all too often the items on the list look a heckuva lot like the ones on last year’s list. We’re all guilty of it. I know I am. It’s time to make sure that doesn’t happen again a year from now. It’s time to scan and sift the list, and turn those high-potential, high-priority goals into cool projects.
What I like about a project mindset is that it makes goals more real, because a project has a distinct start and stop. It requires me to think about the possible result, the consequences, and the resources I’m going to need. It forces me to pick, plan and prepare.
That first step, the “pick,” is critical. And for about a decade, ever since I read Tom Peters’s The WOW Project in Fast Company magazine, I’ve kept five simple criteria in mind when choosing a cool project.
- Passion. Personal passion for your project is a good indicator of just how engaged in the project you’ll be. Does it call on your key talents and strengths? Does it require you to stretch them, so that you’ll learn and grow? If it’s a team project, are the talents and values of your project team aligned to the project? Does your project team believe in the purpose of the work?
- Impact. The last thing you want any project to be, results-wise, is a shoulder shrug, for you or for others. You want impact. By impact I mean positive change. Will this project have great impact on your intended audience? Your audience can include all those on the receiving end of whatever it is you’re going to deliver, and who have an interest in the outcome of your project.
- Rave. Will your project create raving fans? Raving fans are those whose expectations, needs, or requirements you have exceeded. In other words, you’ve “wowed” them. Your project, in effect, creates followers and zealots! Those zealots will tell others. And so on and so on. In today’s connected, Twitter world, it’s much, much easier for a raving fan to broadcast your project’s virtues, so “rave” is an important consideration.
- Breakthrough. Does your project represent a breakthrough or revolutionary improvement or innovation? Does it require your best creative thinking and problem-solving ability? This entails delivering something distinctly better. Let me say that again: better. Better as in greater value. Too often we think about “new” or “different.” New and different isn’t always better, but I think better is almost always new and different.
- Visibility. High profile, high stakes projects attract resources (people and money). If your project never sees the light of day, or if you or your project team can’t propel it into the limelight at least a little bit, your project may never get the recognition and resources needed to have great impact. If the first four criteria have been met, the chances are pretty good that any project pitch will garner the visibility and resources it needs.
As you look at the list, you may want to add another dimension or two, or decide that one or more isn’t applicable to you, your project, or your team. And certainly the weighting of each will vary from person to person and project to project.
I’m not suggesting that these five criteria will guarantee anything more than a set of guideposts for taking that first critical “pick” step. Planning, prep, and project management are all different discussions. (Take a look at my September 28, 2009 OPEN column, The 7 Laws of Projects, and How to Break Them.)
But if want that well-constructed 2010 goal list to do something more than gather dust for a year, you need to pick some cool projects now!
Matthew E. May is the author of In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing. He blogs here. You can follow him on Twitter here.