The Courage to Stop

We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive. — C. S. Lewis

Throughout the year at Solspace, we run multiple projects concurrently. Like any web shop, keeping projects on schedule and under budget is critical - not only for our clients, but for us as well. When we have planned well and kept everything in order along the way, the result is a quiet, relaxed excellence. Missing a deadline or creeping over budget, however, can send a shop out of balance. When timing is off, the impacts ripple beyond the workday and into the precious bits of time we spend at home on bedtime rituals with our kids.

In a recent planning session, my project management team and I discussed possible ways to improve project flow. The wisest among us, Janet Berkow (certainly not me), pointed out that the least intuitive thing to do when a project begins to go sideways is to pause and reevaluate. In such as situation, what we tend to want to do, and what we have sometimes done is to put our heads down, noses to that grind stone and try and do more, faster. But Janet’s right. Stopping is the wiser course. Stopping is exactly the thing to do. It’s a case where working smarter not harder is the choice that is hidden in plain sight.

Rushing headlong toward a deadline can seem paramount; it actually is not. Executing well and sustainably is more important and actually saves time and money. In madly rushing for a finish line, we can lose our way and arrive at the wrong destination. Pausing to communicate honestly with our client and together clarify goals provides transparency, and helps to establish trust. Pausing offers an opportunity to re-choreograph and begin anew. Freezing a job once it begins to go off kilter isn’t intuitive; it is courageous. Declaring loudly and clearly that we have lost control; that we don’t yet know how it happened, and we don’t yet know how to get back on track is an admission of frailty and weakness. Paradoxically, in that admission, we become resilient and strong.

When we have to explain to a client that we will be missing their important deadline, we fear wrath and judgment. It is tempting to let this fear prevent us from following the wisest course. But as our friend Frank Herbert used to say, "Fear is the mind killer." Taking the courageous step, clearly and transparently admitting that there is a problem – a problem that we may have caused, frees us to think clearly and well once again. As soon as we lift our heads up out of the project thickets and look around, we can have a candid conversation with everyone involved. Inviting clients to fully understand the situation provides them with an opportunity to help reprioritize and then, together, we complete the project harmoniously.

When this kind of wisdom has been required of us, when we have had to stop a job before it went farther south, we have been rewarded with a client who is relieved that someone noticed; relieved that someone helped them to identify the source of anxiety they had been feeling. The reward for taking the courageous step has been a deeper relationship with our client, and clearer, more meaningful conversations thereafter.

We choreograph each project with care to avoid issues, but sometimes they arise. When we do have a painful situation, requiring a pause and realignment, we feel grateful afterwards for the deeper understanding we have gained of our client, and their needs and their priorities. In the end, having the courage to stop serves our mission to build long-lasting, fruitful and rewarding relationships with our clients and co-workers.