Recently I flew to Canada and got delayed on my way back home. It inspired me to write the below piece. Enjoy.
In my experience, most projects don't fail in the middle; they fail at the beginning or near the end—during takeoff or landing.
Before the takeoff of a project, if you don't set clear expectations, define success and think deeply about what dependencies and blockers may arise throughout the project you run the risk of your project crashing early in flight or post-take-off. Projects run smoother when broken into incremental steps, and each stage is then assigned an owner and has a definition of done. With the above pre-kick-off check-list complete, it's easier to gauge how long the project should take. That's now the target or destination. You should point your plane in that direction.
After takeoff, it's essential always to ensure you keep heading in that direction. Always check the gauges? Does something feel off? Adjust it right away. It may not be possible to do so later on. Stay focussed and prepare for turbulence. It's not a matter of if you'll run into turbulence, it's a matter of when. Loosen your belts when appropriate, but don't be afraid to tighten them when you need to as well.
Even if the project goes smoothly during flight, the project is not done until it's wrapped up (or you land). This can be a challenge. Some people enjoy the view from up high and never land the plane. It's a blue sky! Why not just stay here and keep cruising along and see where this idea takes us next. Burn the fuel! Other people rush to an emergency landing because the wheels have fallen off during the project, and everyone on-board is ready to abort.
A smooth landing requires more planning and are very intentional in execution. You must slowly ease off the throttle as you begin your descent towards completion. However, don't take your hands off the stick. You must communicate that it's time to land. Those in the tower, those flying with you, and those at the gate need to know your intent. When everyone is prepared, and the final punch list is performed, you're now able to touch down.
You've landed. Landings are not always smooth, and no two are alike. That's okay. You reached the destination. The next team will now take it from here.
As you taxi and wind down from this experience, you should begin your retro. Talk openly about how the project went. It's best to do this right away while it's fresh. Take notes and share them with your team. Think of ways you all can improve on the process next time.
Now go ahead and complete your final punch-list, grab more coffee, and get ready for the next project.
Remember, practice makes perfect. The more miles you fly, the smoother things will get and the more confidence you'll gain.