Looking at the Big Picture

Mar 27, 2006

Rajesh Setty

I have always maintained that we need to learn the art of managing multiple projects. And it's not just about software, this is applicable even to our lives outside of work.

In life, you are always managing two or more projects. There will always be one signature (or key) project that you will pour your life into but there will be a few secondary projects that you can’t ignore.

Also, many times you may not have a choice on what projects you will work on, they are handed to you. This being the case, it is so easy to get carried away by details.

Nobody can deny the need to look at the big picture on every project. We all know it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. If you are not convinced about the need to look at the big picture, just think about what people at the highest level of your organization will be interested in.

I bet they are not looking for the minute details of your projects. If you want to engage with them in any form or fashion, you have no option but to start looking at the big picture.

Here is a quick exercise to get cracking on the big picture stuff. There are two parts to the big picture: one from the company viewpoint, and one from your personal viewpoint. While both are important, it is very easy miss the latter.

The process is simple. Let’s take your signature project into consideration. Now, answer these six "Why" questions honestly.

Why is this project important? One quick way to figure this out is to see who is sponsoring the project and what is in it for them. What will the stakeholders gain by the success of this project?

The golden rule is that all projects are important but some projects are more important. Which category does this project fall under? Is this one of the many “also ran” projects or is it really “special” in some way?

Why is this project important now? Timing is important. Why embark on this project now? Why not wait for another quarter? Another year?

Obviously there is a strong reason to start the project now and you need to know what that is so ask yourself, what happens if the department/organization does not take up this project right now?

Why are you the right person to be involved in this project? Why were you chosen to be a part of the project team? What skills do you bring that this project requires? How can you be sure that you can add measurable value to the project in reasonable time?

Why do you think you should be involved in the role you are involved in? The role that you are playing in this project is important too. What skills and experience do you bring to the table that will make you the right person to play this role?

Why is this important for you? In your career puzzle, every project you undertake should be a critical piece. This project should be no different. It has to add measurable value to you in reasonable time.

Earlier in your career you may not have a choice on the project that is handed over to you. However, you can still make the most out of the project if you are thinking in these lines. The idea should not be to blindly collect a “lot of experience” just for the sake of it. Your goal should be to see how much of this experience could you “leverage” to scale new heights.

If you can’t find a perfect answer for the above question, I urge you to consider the reframed question – “How can you make this project very important for you?”

Why is this project exciting for all? I am of the opinion that, in general, whatever it is you are looking for, you will most often find it. So, why not look for what is exciting about this project for all parties involved? How could you explain this project to someone and make them ask you for more information? What could you do to make this a “Wow” project?

The above answers should provide a quick way of uncovering the big picture from both your company’s viewpoint and your personal viewpoint.

The big picture should make sense from both viewpoints. Most often, your company will ensure that the project makes sense for the company. There is nothing wrong with it. They have a responsibility to the stakeholders to do just that. It is your responsibility to ensure that the project makes sense for you as a person too.

Rajesh Setty is the chairman of CIGNEX Technologies, an open source consulting services and software solutions company, which he co-founded in late 2000. Setty’s latest book is "Beyond Code: Learn to Distinguish Yourself in 9 Simple Steps!" (Select Books - 2005). Setty speaks and writes frequently on topics that include entrepreneurship, leadership and open source.


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