How to Define a Project

How to structure a project commitment when the requirements are vague and incomplete.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #65

Today's topic is dealing with a poorly-defined project. The quick and dirty tip is don’t commit when you don’t know what you’re committing to. If necessary, commit to figuring out your commitment.

Listener Emma writes:

I am starting in a new job in two weeks' time. The project the team will be working on is brand new, groundbreaking, and oh-so poorly defined. Is there anything you can suggest for determining the way forward with a poorly-defined project?

Now, I’m sure this has happened to you. You wake up, fully rested, feeling like a million bucks. You stretch and really enjoy the sheets. The shower is on in the background, and that’s kind of odd, since you don’t remember leaving it on. Suddenly, there's a knock at the door. “Who is it?” A muffled voice says, "Room service for the newlyweds!" And you—whose last memory is being single and saying to your friends, "I don't understand why tequila gets such a bad rap"—say to yourself "Oh my God! What have I done?? ... again!"

The thing about commitment is that you only want to commit when you know what you’re committing to. If you’re taking a job and the project is poorly-defined, don’t commit to any specific outcome. That would be as irresponsible as downing tequila shots on a weekend trip to Vegas.

Don’t commit blindly!

You can’t commit to delivering the vague, squishy project on some hard, firm date. But you can commit to defining the project itself. So you say to your new boss, “We have this big, squishy project. Six weeks from today, at the stroke of midnight, when the wolves howl and mothers shutter their doors against the West Wind, I will deliver to you a specific project plan that we can commit to.”


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.