How to Start a Huge Project in 4 Simple Steps

Doing something perfectly is great, except when it keeps you from starting. First, make a cheap plan, then a fast plan, then a perfect plan, and then merge your plans into something actionable. 
Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #522

Today we’re going to deal with taking on projects so big that you don’t even know what you don’t know.

As you may know, I attended Burning Man this year. It’s a temporary city in the desert that exists for one week each year. It’s literally the size of a city, and is built by artists, engineers, and mad scientists as an experiment in intentional community. 

One day, while riding a bicycle out in the deep desert, inspiration struck. In 1993, the videogame MYST came out. When released, it was immersive. It was beautiful. It was groundbreaking. From the music to the storyline, it held intrigue. I recently replayed it and it holds up very well.

MYST takes place on an island. Between solving puzzles, you often return to a beautiful octagonal library in the middle of the island. The library has "linking books." These are magical books that transport you between different Ages of the MYST universe. My dream is to recreate that library at Burning Man.

There’s only one problem: I don’t build stuff. I don’t design. I don’t use a hammer. I don’t paint. I’ve never transported a structure to an event in the desert. In short, I have nothing but passion, a vision, and a few get-it-done skills here and there.

Ignorance Is Bliss...Plus Paralysis

Not only that, but the scope of this project is so gigantic that it’s paralyzing. There are blueprints to be made, structures to be built. And depending on the cost, probably money to be raised. Grants to be applied for. And none of it is known in advance. Urp!

I announced my desire to do this several weeks ago. And haven’t done any work since. Not for lack of desire; but because the audacity of the project is huge, knowledge is small, and I want to get it 100%, totally right. 

And therein lies the problem. If you have some notion of what the Ideal Project would be, it can be so overwhelming that it becomes impossible to start. But don’t do nothing! You’ve got a vision. Now, make a high-level plan. And another. And a third. Make three plans, and then decide your next steps.

Consider the MYST library. If you were going to make it come true, how would you do it?

How to Start a Project in 4 Simple Steps

  1. Make a Cheap Plan
  2. Make a Fast Plan
  3. Make a Perfect Plan
  4. Make a Merged Plan

Here are the steps in more detail. 

1. Make a Cheap Plan

First, make a cheap plan. You’ve got a vision. Pretend you don’t have money. And in order to get some, you’ll have to sell your loved ones on the black market. So you’re really, really motivated to spend as little as possible.

Pretend you’re broke. What would your plan be?

Wood would be expensive to machine, construct, and transport. You could instead build a metal frame for the building. Instead of solid walls, you could use a layer of painted white fabric for the exterior walls. You could then hang fabric in the interior, painted to look like the interior room. Indeed, you have a theater set designer friend who probably knows how to do all this.

Or even cheaper, you could even make all of the walls out of white fabric, stretched to be taut. Then you cunningly mount projectors to project the outside walls on the outside, and the inside walls on the inside fabric. You save all the painting costs by using Photoshop-created textures and images created entirely on your cell phone.

The cheap plan is: frame + painted scrim + lights.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.