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How to Pick Projects

March 26, 2013

Finding the right project to work on is just like getting a new boyfriend:  Choosing wisely is half the battle.

Sometimes you can’t say no because it’s an order from the boss, or because your mom already set up the date with that guy’s mom, and it’s imperative that you show up.  But other times you can pick who you want to meet, or what projects you want to take on.

The most visible assignments are not always the best ones to get involved in, and the most skilled individuals are not necessarily the ones you want to work with.  That’s the biggest lesson I learned in the last ten years of project work.

Instead, here is what really matters:

  • Personal Control and Contribution.  There is nothing more mind-numbing than working on something where you have little personal control over the outcome and few opportunities to contribute meaningfully.  Well-suited projects allow you to wield a certain level of judgment and decision-making freedom.
  • Length of Time.  Long-term projects invariably come with long-winded office politics and lots of folks to please.  If you’d like to leave work at a decent hour each day, best to avoid getting tangled up in this kind of administration.  Shorter assignments yield visible results faster.  They also don’t have time for scope changes and project management wizardry.
  • People.  Work with friends.  Research has shown that having just one friend in the workplace dramatically increases job satisfaction.  Same goes for projects.  Everyone at work will be fairly competent (we all passed the interview process, after all).  So, choosing your teammates based on skill set won’t matter as much as you think.  Seeing a friendly face every day, however, will make a big difference in your workday.

The time we spend at work should be, as much as possible, engaging and joyful.  Everyone has a certain amount of control over this by choose our commitments carefully.

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