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The 12 Phases of a Successful Project

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All successful project come in phases, and since human beings follow patterns, these phases are pretty universal. Everyone, at some phase, goes through obstacles, finds mentors, etc., so knowing the phases ahead of time can be extremely helpful.

A lot of this can be learned, so here is an impression of how they work. I hope this helps you get through a block of your own– it definitely has helped me.

1. The crazy idea

It occurs to you in a brief moment and you probably dismiss it– but somehow, it’s interesting and it sticks with you. It’s crazy but it doesn’t matter. You feel like it could be real. You could be utterly stupid but you can’t help yourself.

Seek out this stage if: You have no quest and/or little meaning.

How to do it: Get new stimulus. Meet new people. Travel and experience the world. Read furiously.

2. The refusal of the call

Yes, ok, you have this idea and it seems interesting, but who cares? You already have a good life. You’re already fed and clothed. You have friends and perhaps a spouse who loves you. You don’t really need anything big in your life. Who really changes the world, anyway? No one. And hey, nobody ever talks about the failures, but they happen, don’t they? Don’t mess with a good thing.

Seek out this stage if: If you haven’t passed this, you must. You need to progress through it deliberately.

How to do it: Rediscover things you have abandoned. Go back to your childhood. Find your archetype.

3. The private conversation

After perhaps days, weeks, or even months, the idea is sticking. You can’t help it and you’re thinking about it all the time– in the shower, during meetings, everywhere, damn it. So you make the call, and you get a meeting with an old friend who knows a thing or two.

During this time, this mentor hits you in the face with how crazy some of what you say is. But if you’re lucky, he also says something else: “This has promise.” You’ll probably screw it up, of course, but the truth is that this is all you really wanted to hear.

Seek out this stage if: You have accepted some craziness but aren’t sure if it’s even possible.

How to do it: Informational interviewing. Asking people who might have even a tiny chance of knowing.

4. Faking it

Maybe you’re at a party or with some friends, but really, this could happen anywhere. Someone asks you what you do, maybe, or you are just casually talking.

This is when it happens. You throw it out, and you’ve been practicing. “Oh, I’m working on this new thing. Here’s why it’s going to rock etc.”

The truth is, you’ve done no work and you have no idea if it’ll even fly. But you’ve just made it public. You’ve identified with it.

Congratulations. You’ve just chosen a side.

Seek out this stage if: You need the courage to move forward.

How to do it: Practice a short pitch. Don’t try to get everything in like an idiot. Make it conversational. “You know when X? Well right now I’m Y.” Do this with a quasi-friend, not a total friend, but not a stranger either. Maybe someone you haven’t seen in a while. Then, tell them to keep it quiet.

5. The transformation

As time goes on, you begin to identify with your crazy side more and more. Your identity becomes one with it. You adopt new ideas, meet new people, and find out just how much you didn’t know. You look stupid a few times, recover, and then look smart after googling for a while and meeting the right people.

You’ll notice after a time that you are changing. You’re no longer seen as what you once were. People are talking about it, maybe. You’re showing progress. It’s starting to seem real, and this is the point of no return. Beyond this, real failure is possible and very real.

Seek out this stage if: Usually this just happens. It’s slow and you suddenly realize you’re there. But seek it out if you see yourself deliberately stalling.

How to do it: Take a leap of faith. Make a big meeting where you talk ambitiously. Make a promise you can’t take back.

6. The trials

Success is like a road. You are constantly reaching new thresholds you need to learn to pass. This phase always happens and can often happen in sets of threes. You may need to hire an employee and you have no idea how to do it.

As you do this you are encountering constant challenge to your work, and because it isn’t real yet, so there is very little faith. That, by itself, is also a trial. This phase continues as long as it needs to.

Seek out this stage if: You need to grow and you are avoiding it. 

How to do it: Seek out small decisions and make them, as often as you can. Notice bottlenecks and get through them. Ask yourself what would help you cross each threshold and act deliberately, even if an imperfect decision is made.

Part 2 incoming. :) Subscribe below to get it into your inbox!

* Filed by Julien at 10:18 am under direction


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

Check out more of my blog, my free book or add me on twitter. Also, we're hiring. Check that out.

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21 Responses to “The 12 Phases of a Successful Project”

  1. Brian Cotlove Says:

    This is eerily accurate. Very cool to see it in writing and so thoughtfully presented. Hardest part for me is getting past step #2. We all think our own ideas are crazy and are embarrassed to take them further than just the ideas in our own head. Great tips!

    Looking forward to 7-12!

  2. Momekh Says:

    This right here, this article, this is gold. :)
    A very useful breakup of phases and will be referring this to my friends who keep their crazyness in too-much check.

  3. Chris Says:

    Julien,

    This is the 2nd time in the short amount of time that I have been subscribed to your blog that you have shown up just in time. I have a project that I am working on and I’m in a mix between 2 and 3, with a hints of 4 and 5.

    Now that you have so eloquently laid out these phases, I can see that I am in fact making progress, where before (about 20 minutes ago actually), I thought I was kind of stalling or stuck. I will be printing this and part 2 out and using it over and over again! Thanks!!

  4. Sean Says:

    Definitely really cool to look at this list retrospectively from where I’m at now (at 5 or 6 right now) with this whole thing. Took me a really long time to get past number 2 for sure. Just added some extra goals now and that puts me back at stage 3 for the more ambitious stuff.

    Thanks, going to be referring back to this pretty often.

  5. fjr Says:

    This set of stages reminds me very much of Steven Pressfield’s adaptation for this purpose (stages of the creative undertaking) of Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces.

  6. Shelby Says:

    How timely. Ive just created a new webinar something Ive never done before. It feels great to try something new and create something experiential from an idea. It starts in a week, Im already feeling tingles of success because its no longer just some intangible formless thought. Whether defined as a success on a financial level, or judged by others, I no longer care because it has been the process that has been the success in encouraging me to grow and move beyond where I was. I crossed the threshold of indecision between doing and not doing. I enjoyed how you phrased/outlined the process…I think Im at #6 but always improve by being able to start at the beginning, back to #1 if I need to. :-) Thanks for so carefully and thoughtfully illustrating a deep process. Can’t wait for part 2!

  7. Alexander Damien Says:

    Wow, absolutely brilliant post Julien! I’ve never thought about the “project’s journey” like this. This gives so much more meaning and context to my current project- I can feel the flames of passion flaring up again.

    I’m pretty deep into step six right now, and so many times I feel like it would be totally justified if I just took a little “break”. But I know better, I know what a break means.

    Anyways, this post has reminded me that I’ve come too far to throw it all away! Thanks Julien.

  8. Russ Rogers Says:

    I am a musician with a hundred songs in progress floating around in my head at any given moment. In a mix somewhere along the lines of #4 and #5 I envisioned a public project called Demo Jail to force myself to create and post one song per week for 8 weeks.

    I launched Demo Jail this past Sunday, so beginning Nov. 4th my actual output should increase at least 8-fold. I also felt it could benefit other musicians to take the ride the ride along with me, so I made a Facebook page, twitter and all that, and invited all the songwriters I knew. There’s nothing like a public announcement/deadline to kick up the pressure and ultimately the focus. Imagine if there becomes a weekly output of 5-10 focused original new songs..that would be quite inspiring.

    This article makes me feel I’m not crazy for doing this…looking forward to #7-12 :)

  9. Franco Says:

    Currently on number 3. This is so my life for the past couple of months that it speaks directly to my heart.

  10. Susan Cooper Says:

    I love this. It was like you were writing my thoughts. Taking an idea or thought, turning it in to action and then to final product is not as simple as that list of words. As you said, there is WHOLE lot of stuff that goes along with those words. :-)

  11. Miles Says:

    I have a feeling he just wrote “12″ but had only thought of about 6 as a way to push him towards another post ^_^

  12. David Dalrymple Says:

    This is pretty much bang-on. Can’t wait for the next installment.

  13. james Says:

    Julien,

    Why on number 6, do trials occur in sets of three?

  14. Edwin Jansen Says:

    I take it this was inspired by Joseph Campbell or by Chris Vogler? There is also a great book called a million miles in a thousand years (or something like that) which adopts the rules of a great story to life. It’s a good rule of thumb – a good life is a good story and its remarkable how common the stages are.

  15. Philip Luca Says:

    Thanks Julien. This post is real, inspiring and challenging. That’s why I keep coming to your blog. Thanks!

  16. Kyle Reed Says:

    ready for round 2 of this post :)

  17. Mark Hunter Says:

    I LOLd at how spot on this is.

  18. andrew gaucher Says:

    Looking forward to round 2.
    SOme great ties to the heros journey me thinks.

  19. Lauri Nelson Says:

    I would love to see 7-12.
    Just finished reading THE FLINCH.
    Now I have to decide not to flinch and re-read it and DO the homework.
    Some vet interesting concepts.

    How many copies have currently been downloaded?

  20. Xavier Says:

    Great information! Right on time! Part 2 please!

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