Keeping Your Cool on a Do-Over


Last year, my team and I finished a complex project. It had been an intense, at times excruciating, project. It initially started out pretty simple and very straightforward. But then it snowballed. There were resourcing issues. Staff turnovers. Conflicting requirements. Blame games. Scope changes. Updated capabilities. Disappearing stakeholders. Revised user needs. Unengaged decision-makers. It felt like the hits just kept on coming, every week something different and no two issues alike. What was originally supposed to be six months turned into two and a half years. When we finished that project, the relief and sense of accomplishment was tremendous.

It was short-lived.

Earlier this year, my supervisor informed me that there were kinks in the deliverables we produced. The project was being reconsidered for a short-term remedy to resolve the client’s main concerns. But then earlier this week, my supervisor said that the client’s concerns had grown. The project is now a hot priority. It could be reopened in a new phase before Memorial Day. Guess who’s on tap?

When I heard I might get a do-over assignment, my initial reaction was to sweep all the papers off my desk in very dramatic fashion (like this). It would’ve made too much of a mess, so I settled for thwapping some handouts down on my desk instead. But then the reality sank in; how do you prepare for a do-over project? A do-over assignment isn’t going to be like a typical assignment. It requires a completely different approach.

  1. Focus on understanding facts first. This means investigating “what,” not “why” or “how.” Disallow assumptions or speculation. If you think about anything other than the facts, those first critical conversations are going to be interrogative and confrontational. That’s not productive and it makes those conversations harder.
  2. Accept that there’s baggage. New projects are influenced only by general lessons learned and best practices. But do-over projects? They’re influenced by everything that happened, or didn’t happen, on the previous projects. So acknowledge it and move on.
  3. Communicate with supervisors and managers. On a do-over project, the frustration and stress levels are high to begin with. They can handicap success so get out in front of it by opening those lines of communication so if something happens, your supervisor is already up-to-date and can jump into assist without requiring spin-up time.
  4. Discuss and determine expectations. All projects come with expectations, but there are more expectations, and more eyes, on do-overs because of the high stakes. Discuss them with your supervisor. Discuss them with your team. Discuss them with your stakeholders.
  5. Stay positive. On a do-over assignment, or even a task you don’t want, it’s easy to get dragged into the nots and the shoulda-coulda-wouldas. That does nothing but make you a little more miserable. Put yourself into a positive mindset by focusing on the assets and skills you bring to the project. If that doesn’t work, use affirmations and platitudes. Write them on sticky notes and attach them to your monitor if you need to.
  6. Take it personally. If you feel like you’re being blamed for the problems that necessitate the do-over assignment, go ahead and take it personally (within reason, obviously). If it feels like your integrity, your skills, your competency, or your team is being questioned, use that for motivation. Taking a do-over assignment personally means that you’re invested in the work and you’re committed to seeing it through.

But there’s also a big caveat: don’t let the emotions take control of the work and your focus. Use them as motivators, but don’t use them as influencers. You’ll probably end up with another do-over.

Have any of you gotten any do-over assignments? How have you prepared to take one on?

Meganne Lemon is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply