Is One of Your Projects Stuck? Here’s How to Get It Back on Track

There are lots of reasons projects get stuck, and there are lots of ways to get them unstuck.

The key to the process is first defining the purpose for your project.

Unfortunately, most leaders default to the opposite approach—they try to come up with a “good idea” before having a clear purpose and vision. Taking this approach almost always creates increased ambiguity and thus stress, because there is no unifying principle to integrate things. As a result, people can easily go off in a thousand directions without ever even hitting on the actions that they really need to take.

But when you define the purpose first, it immediately gives you clarity, guidance and focus. Because you have focus, you save time. Because you have clarity, you are able to determine the actions that will actually work. And because you have guidance, you won’t feel lost and confused.

David Allen outlines a great way to get “unstuck” in his book Getting Things Done by using what he calls the “natural planning model.” Here it is in a nutshell.

The Five Steps of the Natural Planning Model


1) Purpose and Principles

Step one is defining the “why” of the project.

If you are redesigning the website of your organization, for example, why are you doing that? Are you seeking to increase usability, replace an outdated design or add new functionality? And why are you seeking to do those things?

Identifying the steps you need to take on a project is much easier when you know why you are doing it in the first place. And as Simon Sinek points out in Start with Why, starting with the purpose is also the key to motivating and inspiring people. He says, “Those who are able to inspire give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive or benefit to be gained.”

People who are inspired, act because they want to, not because they have to. And this inspiration comes not from external incentives but from purpose. Principles are the core standards for how you will do things. They are inspiring when they resonate with the core of people and are based on the desire to empower people rather than control them.

2) Outcome Visioning

After defining the purpose, you then start envisioning what it will be like to achieve success with the project. This is the “what.”

For example, to use a wild and crazy idea, if the project is to accomplish a manned mission to Mars, the vision of the outcome might be: “Four people have landed safely on the red planet and are ready to walk around and explore; the world is excited by this incredible new step; the visitors will stay for two months and then return.”

Or if your company is looking for a new office building, your vision might be “We are in a building with excellent design that is inspiring and doesn’t make us feel like we are back in the 1940s; there is enough room for all our employees and many years of growth; the building is near good restaurants and has sufficient parking.”

3) Brainstorming

Envisioning the outcome naturally leads to generating ideas regarding how you are going to achieve your goal. What actions do you need to take in order to make it happen? To use the office property example above, for example, you might need to identify the budget, find a realtor, narrow down the parts of town you want to consider, and so forth.

4) Organizing

Then these actions need to be organized. Organizing them into groupings of similar components, such as “design,” “legal,” “search,” and so forth can be helpful.

5) Next Actions

Finally, you determine the very next thing you need to do to get the project going.

Utilize this process whenever you want to improve or create something.

I was doing a coaching session with an executive recently. When I asked him the main thing in his work or life that he wanted to improve, he said leading his family. That’s an excellent decision. So, I took him through this process. We talked about why he wanted to lead his family more effectively. Then we talked about what this would look like and the benefits it would have for his family. Then we talked about what recurring habits and actions would be best to put in place to make this happen. The number of ideas this process generated and the amount of clarity it brought to the task was amazing.

Just by using this simple process, we had a tool for creating powerful change and improvement in this executive’s life.

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