Thursday, July 14, 2011

Are You Working on a Lame Duck Project?

On public radio this week, I heard again the idiomatic expression, lame duck.  This phrase describes a political leader who has been voted out of office or who has lost the support of the citizens, but who still remains for  weeks or months in that office. Lame ducks are ineffective because everyone knows they won’t be around much longer, so there is no need to respect or fear them.

Lame duck can also describe an organization or business project that is not noticed, may not “fly*,”, or is low-priority and not vital to the company.   Might you be working hard on a lame duck project?

Why it’s important to identify a lame duck project

I tell employees I coach that it’s critical to assess the value and visibility of projects they’re working on. If you silently struggle on a low-value and under-resourced project, you may get frustrated and lose motivation.  

Ideally you want to be positioned on projects that are “hot,” ones that matter to the company’s strategic plan, projects that have legs.*  Below, I’ll share some tips for how to better position yourself.

Realistically, though, you can’t always choose your projects, so next week I’ll discuss how you can use good communication to make the most of the project you’ve been assigned.

Four ways to assess the value and visibility of your project

1.      Note the level of management engagement in your project. Do the decision-makers show up for your project’s meetings and prioritize your meetings over other conflicting meetings?
2.      Read senior management report-outs and “roll ups” of your larger group’s array of projects. If your project isn’t mentioned, or if it is always at the bottom of the list, it’s likely not getting the support it needs in order to thrive.
3.      Attend corporate forums where senior managers speak about the organization’s direction. Managers have limited time, and they focus on what is important to the company’s bottom line. Is your project on their radar*?
4.      Network. If you’ve got your head down in your cubicle, focused on the details of your project, you might miss the buzz* about how the project is viewed in the eyes of senior management and other teams.  

Six communication strategies to help ensure that your project “will fly”  
1.      Take an honest look at how well you have fought for your own project. Ask yourself:  “Did I communicate my project’s value and bottom-line* impact to the organization, so that my manager has the information to knowledgeably champion my project?”
2.      Set up a meeting with your manager. Communicate that you’ve noticed attention, resources, etc. have been focused on other projects.
3.      Immediately follow that statement by asking how your project can have more value, become higher on the priority list, or obtain further resources in order to have a bigger impact.
4.      Listen closely. Your manager attends higher-level meetings and will likely know what issues, concerns, or roadblocks exist.
5.      Respond with specifics about what you can provide to your manager: data, rationale, research, input from customers, etc.  If your manager agrees, make sure to follow up on your commitments.
6.      Be positive. No one likes a complainer. Always be positive with your observations and your suggestions.  (More blogs on positive communication strategies and techniques will be forthcoming.)

 * I will sprinkle idiomatic expressions throughout the blog posts. I am so committed to the value of understanding and using idiomatic expressions at work, that I’ve written three books in the series: Stories for Learning Useful Business Idioms. Check them out on my website.

Lame duck is an old idiom, whose origins are described at  This site explains the origin of many English language phrases.

Feel free to post a comment or suggest other topics you’d like to see covered in my blog.

Next weekTurning Lemons into Lemonade: Communication Strategies to make the most of a low-priority project

Jolinda Osborne 

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