Posted by bob on May 1, 2023

There is an old joke that says something like, “In every project there comes a time when you have to shoot the engineers and ship the product.”

This is not a real or literal threat against engineers. But it contains a nugget of truth about the human side of engineers and projects: we often grow so attached to a project that we wish to endlessly fine-tune our solutions.  In some cases, we might be hanging on just to prolong our relationship with the project or product. Sometimes that comes from a desire to keep working with the same folks we have gotten to know well and care about.

This can be true of projects in our work life and can be true of projects in our home life. My wife has expressed that my projects at home are never complete until I have asked her come and study (or maybe even admire) the final project result.

I recently ended a many-year and many-problem “project” on a relative’s house that had a lot of deferred maintenance. I realized that I had purchased a bunch of tools and learned several new skills just to deal with this collection of problems. Most of the tools and skills will transfer to working on my own house or friend’s houses. Nonetheless, I find myself a little sad to be letting go of these previous challenges.

Some of those problems fell more into the nightmare category. My inner voice says, “Yes, but they were familiar problems. You had gained some clues about where to start.”

Starting a new project can be a lot like taking a new job; or a little like the first day at a new school. You need to learn the names of some new bosses, new team members, and new customers. You need to learn a new set of project constraints, terminology, and goals. You might find you have to re-define yourself as you take on a new role within a new project.

To be blunt: a new project can be a scary and uncertain time. The problem-solving skills you demonstrated on the previous project are what earned you the privilege of taking on this new set of problems. If you improved your ability to Write Stuff Down, you will already have a good foundation for the new project. Using a good methodology for investigating and solving problems can ease the transition from a familiar project to new situations.

Don’t panic. Breathe. It’ll be fine—until it isn’t.