Embracing the End of Your Project

Embracing the end of your projectAt work, every project you create or work on can feel like an extension of yourself. That’s only natural; the best ideas are a reflection of their creators. Because of this phenomenon, however, it can be incredibly hard to end a project when it’s naturally time to do so; you don’t want your project or concept to die, potentially because you view that as a form of failure.

This concept of unnecessarily avoiding “project death” was recently covered in excellent detail in a Medium blog by writer Christina Xu1. Whether you’re headlong in to your own project that has passed its natural expiration date, or you’re just starting out, understanding the concept of a good project death is important.

Avoiding Undignified Project Death

The Medium blog notes the difference between an undignified project death and a dignified one. A dignified project death signifies that an effort ends when it should: When no more forward progress can be made.

As for why this frequently happens, Xu writes: “We don’t give [our projects] proper closure because thinking about them makes us feel guilty, and announcing them makes us feel weak. Instead they quietly disappear, unmemorialized and undocumented.”

In her post, Xu highlights several types of undignified project deaths to watch out for:

  1. Keeping a project on indefinite hold, despite no tangible progress
  2. Passing a project on to someone else, rather than ending it yourself
  3. Adding facets or putting in hours to a project that has already reached its logical conclusion, resulting in a project that no longer serves its original intention
  4. Working on a project to the point of burnout, with the end result (along with your psyche) suffering
  5. Purposefully avoiding warning flags that a project won’t work out until it’s too late

All of these undignified project deaths are risky at best and thoroughly unprofessional at worst. That’s why it’s so incredibly crucial to personally end your projects when the time comes.

Understanding Project Death

If you’ve ever had to work on a project for your career or education, you’ve likely encountered some form of project death.

To illustrate: If you’re an MBA student, you’ve probably had more than a few papers to write. Imagine a scenario where you have a big, end-of-course assignment with about four weeks to complete your work.

One week in, you’ve picked a thesis and written a few pages, but you aren’t quite feeling it; you don’t think your thesis can support the assignment requirements. Despite the work you’ve already put in, you later discover another, better idea. It becomes clear that the new, superior concept will lead to a more successful paper in the end.

This is where giving your project a “dignified death” is crucial; it’s important to stop putting more time in to your “dead” paper as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary lost hours, productivity, and stress. Instead of fixating on an idea that should be killed off, you can instead put your energy toward an idea that will succeed.

The example above extends to nearly every type of project in the career world, as well. Whether you’re a marketer developing a digital strategy, an IT professional implementing new technology, or anything in between, identifying projects past their prime and giving them a dignified death is an essential skill.

How to Give Your Project a Dignified Death

Thankfully, dignified project death isn’t as complicated as it seems. From the examples above, and those Xu provides, we can identify some ways to end things gracefully and avoid unnecessary project heartbreak. When considering whether or not to end a project, remember:

  1. Endings are a good thing: Everything must come to an end; if your project were to continue on forever it would become bloated and provide no measurable gains. Instead of running from a project death, embrace it.
  2. Be honest with yourself: If things aren’t going well, don’t ignore the warning signs. Fix what can be fixed, but if a project is beyond fixing then realize that it’s probably time to close things up.
  3. Keep things transparent: Similarly, keep your project stakeholders and team members abreast of any hiccups you’re experiencing. Even if you don’t recognize that’s it’s time for your project to die, someone else might.
  4. Always have an escape plan: When you’re planning a project, consider its end up front. The Medium article offers an excellent exercise for this: Imagine that at any point, there is no tomorrow for your project. Do you have what you need to wrap things up?
  5. Always look ahead: Never get tunnel vision when it comes to a project; always view the project as a whole. This will prevent needless work and ensure your project ends at an appropriate juncture.

Ultimately, ending projects on time is crucial. Otherwise, what you created and ultimately put so much thought behind can die an undignified death.

On dignified project deaths, Xu notes: “The end is a chance to tell the project’s whole story, a chance for the community you built to celebrate how they came together in the first place, and for everyone to exchange contact information and pack up their things. It’s a time to say goodbye and thank you, and then look ahead.”

Where Will Your Path Take You?

Are you a project-oriented thinker? Explore CTU’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program or A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and if you’re struggling with a project, be sure to check out these 5 ways to pump up your passion.

1Xu, C. (2015, May 19). Your Project Deserves a Good Death - Chrysaora Weekly. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from