Killing Zombie Projects

Zombies make for great television because they’re just so darn hard to stop. Whenever you think they’re down for the count, they come back stronger than ever.

Now brace yourself, because this might come as a shock.  Zombies exist in real life!  Well, at least “zombie projects” do.

If you’ve worked at a large company I suspect you’ve encountered at least one of these projects skulking around. They aimlessly drift through the company consuming precious resources and never producing results. I know, super scary!

To do my part in preventing the zombie project apocalypse, I’ve pieced together a rough field guide to assist aspiring zombie hunters. Hopefully it can help you expose and eradicate those dreaded undead projects lurking around your organization.

Let’s start with the basics; classification. Here’s a brief overview of some zombie projects you might encounter.

Ploddus Alongus – Most common. This represents a project that continuously drags on without making any real progress. As a defense mechanism it will spontaneously generate PowerPoint presentations to appear productive. Don’t be fooled! These typically won’t die off by leaving them to their own devices. They are notorious for sucking resources from other important work and are not to be ignored.

Amorphous Resurrectus – Difficult to detect. These commonly emerge after a project is cancelled. Like a ghoul rising from the grave, they’ll present themselves to an unsuspecting sponsor weeks, months, or even years after the original project failed. These grotesque abominations maintain 95% of the same characteristics of the previous project but take on a new name as a disguise to avoid detection.

Gravitas Blobulous – Rare, hungry, and extremely dangerous. While its origins are difficult to pinpoint, it’s believed to be a horribly mutated version of Ploddus Alongus. One leading hypothesis is that Ploddus Alongus consumes enough resources to reach critical mass. The sheer weight of the project draws more and more resources from the surrounding environment. One dead giveaway (pun intended) is you’ll often encounter swarms of buzzwords, kind of like flies on a corpse, buzzing around as defense. They lure their prey with the siren’s song of making progress “if only more assistance is made available.” However, instead of progress, precious resources are completely devoured and never heard from…. ever again!!!

With a general understanding of the various classifications you’re now equipped to start hunting!

First things first. When you encounter a zombie project identify it as such. This simple and courageous act can sometimes bring enough awareness to kill it. After all, sunlight is a powerful disinfectant.

However, if you’ve brought attention to a zombie project and it still persists, then more drastic measures are required. Literally, measures. Do this by quantifying things like time, money, and people being wasted. Push to get some real quantification of the project benefits. Then prepare a ROI (return on investment) summary demonstrating the damage being done. Present this as an offering to a “higher power.” They may be able to intervene and swiftly put an end to things.

If that doesn’t work then it’s time to go full on zombie killer! That’s right, go ahead and channel your inner Bruce Campbell (aka. Ash) from Evil Dead. Just like silver bullets and werewolves, or wooden stakes and vampires, everyone knows that the only true way to kill a zombie is to completely destroy the brain. Not an easy task!

The trick to taking down the most relentless undead requires a skillful combination of techniques. Since each situation is different it will be up to you to determine the

right combination.

Here are some approaches to add to your arsenal.

  • Constant sunlight – Use every opportunity available to bring visibility to the project. Remember, sometimes it takes multiple doses of a medicine to completely kill a disease.
  • Cut off parts that aren’t yet infected – Identify healthy parts of the project that might be useful and then cut them off to develop on their own. This helps expose core problem areas and limits excuses to keep the project alive.
  • Focus on the light – Sometimes people support zombies because they feel it’s their only choice. You can help them “see the light” by sharing examples of higher value activities they can do instead.
  • Logic – Emotions often run high on zombie projects and is a major source of their power. Apply logic to the situation and encourage others to do the same. Acknowledging and reducing emotional attachment is a great way to help “let go” so the project can die peacefully.
  • Invoke multiple “higher powers” – Share your ROI offering to multiple higher powers. Sometimes a collective effort is required to take down a particularly nasty monster.
  • Starvation – Eliminate sources of talent and funding. This can slow things down and potentially bring it to a halt.

A final word of caution. Be aware that zombie projects can draw their power from other dark allies. These might include external consultants, outside vendors, naive co-workers, and sponsors who may be under their direct influence. Before attempting to eliminate a zombie project, ensure you understand the true scope of its power base. Just like a weed, effective extermination requires digging out all the roots.

There you have it. You’re now equipped with the knowledge to begin facing down those persistent undead projects plaguing the office. With practice and a bit of luck, you can help make the world a better place!