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Handling external factors in project definitions

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  • Handling external factors in project definitions

    Hi there, I've been lurking for a long time this great community, and finally I've decided to ask a doubt that has been on my mind for a long time.

    When naming a project, the usual wisdom is phrasing it so you make it dependent on internal factors, things upon which you have control (for example, 'having 2 new products by ...' You go through the toil and then you have 2 new products).

    But now and then I found projects that are dependent on an external measurement, for example 'Get 4,700 unique visitors for my web by...'. I don't see a way to reframe a project like that to put it into personal control. What would you do in a case like that? I don't have the reference here, but I think in 'Making it all work' there is an example project that goes 'Increase sales by 5% by ...', which is, again, out of one's control. What's your experience about this division? Thank you

  • #2
    It's not even a project!

    First let me say that this may be general wisdom and while I am not 'againat' it, I must say that David Allen in his GTD book did not put forth this notion. Instead he describes in teh Natural Planning Method a model for a project that consists of 'purpose', 'successful outcome', 'guiding principles' and last but not least 'actions'. He puts not that much an emphasize on the name of the project.

    More to your point, let me ask within the boundaries of the first example you gave. What happens if you reach 5,000 unique visitors within the given time period? I found these SMART goals, while tempting when viewed from the outside, are way too simplistic to catch the realities of things. Yes, metrics are a fine thing and often needed to attain clarity, but having a binary hit-miss point as a way to assess the outcome seems too simplistic (and ultimately not so smart).

    Also, in your example, I know that I am mis-understandin on purpose here, but your example is kinda wrong because you could always buy web visitors with advertising. This project could be a single Next Action in your Google account. The increase sales example in the GTD book is a good example of how to increase sales by writing for your target audience

    Lastly, I do think there is a way to reframe each project into an "internal" one. If you can't, than it's not a project (as per GTD). What happens if you don't make it to 4,700 visitors within the given time-frame? Did you fail the project? It has the 'R' from "SMART" missing: it is not 'realistic'. Where do you go from there? The reality of this goal, stated as a GTD-project would be: "Until <date> I do everything possible to attract 4,700 visitors to my website." Which sounds like one reoccurence of a repeating project und the "website marketing" 20,000 ft Area of Responsibility.

    I'd like to discuss this further to find a workable solution.


    • #3
      Hi cpu_modern, and thank you for your insights.

      Until <date> I do everything possible to attract 4,700 visitors to my website.
      I think this a better approach, as it is based on one's abilities. Of course, the project definition should perhaps be narrowed down from that point a little, by applying the question 'when will I know I'm done?'. There are so many thing one can do to promote a web... So maybe starting a R&D project re: best resources to promote a web, and then, out of the new info, deciding which projects implement. I still miss some way to make an informed estimation in this kind of projects, but this is closer to what I was looking for.


      • #4
        I don't understand why it needs to be written in terms of personal control. You've defined the end point clearly - 4700 unique visitors by X. You need to have some sort of monitoring as part of the project, so you regularly check on your progress, if not achieving it you need to adjust your plan & methods for attracting people throughout the project, or adjust your target date. To me the project is fine the way it is written and doesn't need adjusting.


        • #5
          Hey Suelin23, thank you for your comments too. Yeah, maybe my question was a bit esoteric, or I was taking too literally the 'define a game you can win' premise. IOW, I was expecting a project formulation that did the work for me! So I'll stick to the traffic rate as measurement of success. I guess there are certain situations where all you can do is doing your homework and hope for the best.

          As a sidenote, I wonder, perhaps visits to a website is one of the hardest things to foresee; in the sales example, at least, one has prediction models, market trends, but information consumers do as they please, don't they? (Unless, I guess, one sticks to mainstream, dull contents a la 'Twilight', 'Paris Hilton', etc... but that would be a no-no in my principles list).