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Project Fatigue can kill your chances of delivering! Tips for dealing with it.

I’d hazard a bet that we’ve all been there. We’ve all worked on that project, the one which seems to go round in circles with hundreds of false starts, changes of approach and seemingly endless issues to manage. After six months the team is making slow but significant process…  yet team members seem completely burned out! This is a classic case of  “Project Fatigue“, and it can threaten the success of a project if it manifests itself.  People become de-motivated, reluctant to proactively challenge things and innovation is unlikely.

Project Fatigue is often accompanied by a perceived lack of meaningful progress; team members may feel de-motivated because the project seems to have ‘stagnated’ with no clear way of re-gaining the momentum.  The good news is that providing it is recognised and acknowledged, it can be remedied.  The key here is to show all project team members that progress is being made, and to ensure that everyone has “bought in” to a visible plan.  Once people have bought in to a plan, they feel accountable and will often move mountains to deliver.

As a Leader of a project team (or an individual project team member) what can be done to avoid project fatigue, or remedy it if it has started to appear? Here are a few practical tips:

1. Set a visible, meaningful milestone plan : If you or your team is suffering from project fatigue, consider re-visiting your project plan and schedule. Are the milestones realistic and meaningful? Do they actually contribute towards the success of the project? If not, consider changing them.  Consult and get “buy in” wherever possible. Set regular milestones, communicate them, and track them.  Visibly seeing that progress is being made is much more rewarding than silence!

2. Re-gain momentum with smaller, regular touchpoints : Regularly show your team members that the project is making progress, and their contribution matters. Regular, short, focused progress meetings can help here. Encourage challenge and innovation: if there is a better way of progressing the project, it should be examined.  It doesn’t matter that there is six months worth of “sunken costs” – the new approach might be quicker, cheaper and more efficient.

3. Kill unnecessary meetings : Often, as projects progress, diaries get full with recurring meetings. Perhaps they are cross-project meetings or lengthy status update meetings. The trouble is they can become repetitive and lose effectiveness, and they can actually stop the actual “work” from getting done. This in itself contributes to the feeling of Project Fatigue. My recommendation would be to critically evaluate each meeting; is it necessary, can it be shortened? Can it be cancelled all together, or made less frequent?

4. Change location : One simple (and free) technique to re-energise can simply be to sit at another desk. A colleague gave me this tip, and it really seems to work – if you change your surroundings, even for a few days, it can make you feel more ‘refreshed’ and perhaps even trigger some creative thinking on any existing problems. This works for some people and not others, but it’s worth trying.

5. Have a team social : Don’t forget the social aspect of teams. Having a team outing, dinner, or other social event can really help. This needn’t be expensive, and can be a fun way of recharging the batteries and refreshing.  It also strengthens work relationships, and encourages people to connect on a social (as well as professional) level.

6. Get an outside view: If you have project issues or problems that just seem impossible or insurmountable, getting an external perspective can be extremely valuable. Consider asking a trusted colleague to provide a view, or in major programmes perhaps get an external assessment. Prepare to be challenged, and be sure to consider any suggestions that are made (however radical)

7. Remember the individual: Remember that individual members of your team might have differing world-views, preferences and career aspirations.  They are a great source of innovation, so ask them for suggestions on how the project could improve.  Ask them if there is anything you can do to improve their work day.  If you have rapport, then feel free to ask them if they feel de-motivated (and why).  Be ready to listen, without imposing a view.   They might just have a solution!

However the best advice is to work with your colleagues to avoid “project fatigue” occurring in the first place. Meaningful engagement, proper planning and decisive decision making all seriously decrease the risk of fatigue (and increase the chance of delivery). But sometimes these are luxuries we don’t have!

What are your experiences of ‘project fatigue’? Do you have any other tips to share? If so, I’d love to hear them. You can reply directly to this post with your views and comments.

This article was originally published by Adrian Reed on, a site dedicated to Business Analysis in the real world, and more importantly, home to an entirely free requirements toolkit.

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