The secret to thriving in a doomed tech project

Hello! I know you’ve come for the secret and we’ll get there. We’ve all been in a doomed tech project. You feel in your stomach that this is not going to work, you can almost smell all-nighters approaching. Let me tell you a story that will make explaining easier. 

This was my first big project as a Project Manager in Software Development. The whole team was the victim of a poorly scoped and badly negotiated project. We had to do some overtime but were able to keep it on a reasonable amount. Even though the odds were against us, we managed to have a good vibe and enjoy our work. 

One day our main stakeholder calls me to his office. What he said to me next left me speechless: due to another vendor not being able to deliver their part of the project, we are going to pull the plug. We are going to pay for everything you’ve done so far. 

The secret is not for you to wait for an external event that solves your problems. This was pure luck, something we could not control. It’s a bad idea, expecting every day that your doomed project will be almost magically solved by other people.

The secret to thriving was positivity. Sounds easy now, but the landscape was really gloomy for some months. My attitude was something I could control. I could not control the contract, what the client said, or how fast we could progress. During the crazy hurricane, a positive attitude kept me grounded. Helped me find calm in all the turmoil.

Let’s think for a second about what could have happened without the right attitude. We might have gotten to the same point. But might have got angry between us, people might have screamed and we might have not been able to build a team. This badly planned project made us a great team and blasted us into the next project. Doomed projects break team, the right attitude made us stronger. As David Goggins says: to make a sword you need to put it in the hottest fire you can find. 

Being positive is not about being delusional. It’s not the person that it’s like in another world. It’s not the person who is saying: “Hey, this is perfect. This is cool, right?” And it’s 11 pm you’re writing code and when you should be with your family. You don’t need to be disconnected from reality. It’s okay to say, you know, this sucks. But at least what I don’t want is for you to collapse your awareness and just descend in a vortex screaming and say, Yeah, I hate this. You know, start cursing and doing stupid things.

Positivity means working hard with a nice attitude when everything seems lost and it looks like you’re not going to make it. Being able to remain calm, work hard be someone that people can look for you and say, yeah, he’s got it together. 

This is a meta-skill. This is something you can cultivate. You can try meditation, Alexander Technique, or gratitude journaling. You’ll find a lot of opportunities to practice this in the extreme sport of working in tech. The important part is the outcome. You want to have this. Because your career you’ll find this kind of situations and you’ll have to face them, you have to walk through them.

There’s another important advantage that if you are able to maintain that good outlook, work hard as I said, being a nice person. This will help you build relationships. You only know people in their darkest times when things get rough. You want to be near people who you can count on when things go south. You don’t want a screaming hurricane when things get difficult. 

As I mentioned in the beginning, I hope you are reading this for fun and not because you are facing a doomed tech project. But if you are, remember:  stay positive and calm, work hard and accept situations that sometimes suck. Don’t be the screaming hurricane, Be the kind of person you want in your team. 


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