Why I’m passionate about doomed IT projects.

The past 6 years I have been working as an IT consultant, which is a fancy way of saying that I’m a programmer for hire.

During this time I have seen my fair share of either failed or terribly underperforming projects, and the financial and personal consequences that follow. The most heartbreaking of those are the personal.

During the worst of these projects, I have seen working relationships blow up, people quitting, people being removed from projects and untold amounts of backbiting and resentment rise up in its wake. A doomed project is like a maelstrom that sucks people and resources into its shadowy void and, unless something is done, it can spread through an organisation like a disease. Alliances form, distrust of leadership arises and, most crucially in my opinion, people’s lives and their families suffer. In terms of money, I have seen millions, not to speak of the value of reputations and professional relationships.

And yet, these doomed projects are the ones that I’m the most proud of having been part of, and the ones I have learned the most from.

The reason? I had to learn, out of sheer necessity, the tools to create unity and direction for teams. This is a skill that is so powerful and fascinating it eclipses all my technical skills. With unified, goal oriented teams, anything is possible. Such teams allowed us to send people to the moon and form countries. And the silver linings of doomed projects are invaluable, if you manage to turn them around. And you can't afford not to.

These are 3 of the priceless bounties of a doomed project turned around:

1. Extremely unified and high performing teams.

Many of the team members from my doomed projects that was turned around are now very close friends of mine. These are people that I spent the majority of my waking hours with for periods of up to two years, and during this time they proved themselves as the most skilled, professional and trustworthy people that I’ve had the honour of working with.

The best teams are the ones that have done the hardest work together.

These are people that I would truly cherish the opportunity to work with again. I know that they are rock solid and that if we ever worked together again, we would make an extremely effective team right off the bat.

Now, if you are a manager reading this and manage to turn around a project properly, you will end up with one of these teams as well. Just make sure you reward them properly so they stick around, these people are now highly prized assets on the job market.

2. Massive amounts of learning.

When you are in a doomed project, you are basically in a startup in the sense that you just have to solve the problems in front of you because time and human resources are usually extremely scarce.

That means you quickly have to adapt to new technologies and solve problems that are way out of your comfort zone. In one of my doomed projects, I had to learn how to deploy and manage a Kubernetes cluster serving production traffic for one of Norway’s most popular sites in a matter of weeks. I also had to step up from doing mostly developer tasks to doing way more high level architecture work. Last, but certainly not least, I had to figure out how to create a motivated team simply because that’s what the project needed.

These are skills that have accelerated my professional career and given me opportunities that would probably take me years to gain otherwise.

3. Sense of accomplishment and meaning

We all search for meaning in our lives, and in the technology sector it is not always easy to see the greater meaning in our work. But helping to turn around something that seems absolutely doomed into something that is thriving and still delivering value to people and customers to this day is something truly special. And the contrast of seeing a team that is completely disunited and one that is thriving and joyful at work every day is also something deeply meaningful.

So thats why Im very passionate about doomed IT projects, and maybe you should be too. Maybe embrace them as an opportunity to set something right in the world.

If you want to find out the three main ingredients to turn around a doomed project, check out my next post here.