Posted 26 November 2018
Written by Michael William Lester
Interview by Marianne Hanoun

Why is my project going badly? Michael Lester on improving process and client communication

The business of making creative work is not always plain sailing. Whether working with a client, or trying to navigate a personal endeavour, creative blocks and other road bumps can all make for a turbulent project. So what can you do when things aren’t going too well? In a bid to work this out, creative and founder of Beginners Studio, Michael Lester, made a list of the ways that projects can take a turn for the worse. From not being given enough direction to neglecting to give yourself time to fail, this list can help bring clarity to a chaotic process. He shares his checklist with us, and tells us how it’s helped him jump challenging hurdles.

Today, nearly every project I work on – client and personal – will experience some varying form of personal meltdown along the way. When I was starting out, I believed that these kinds of problems during projects would disappear as I got better and more established. But over time, I continued to find myself struggling.

I started paying attention to the exact pattern of events that led to these struggles, and most of the time, it could be attributed to a small list of recurring problems that weren't always in my control. At first, this materialised as a list I kept on Evernote, but over time, it became something I’d regularly check in with, when things weren't going well.

“When I was starting out, I believed that problems during projects would disappear as I got better and more established.”

It helped me to understand where things went wrong. And after that, I would know what to do about it, or, alternatively, simply accept that I wasn't always going to be making my best work – and that's completely ok.

Unfortunately, we tend to let the jobs that have been most problematic define our entire existence when we are working on them. This isn’t healthy, or a correct representation of ourselves, so preventing problems on your next project is important. Here are five points to consider if you’re going through a problematic project...

​Direction has been given that I don't agree with

Has direction been given that you don’t agree with?
If you're not into the idea that's been given to you, you can't expect the work to come out well. We always forget this, and blame ourselves. Challenge it and make it something you believe in or suck it up and accept it won't be your best work.

Are multiple people tackling the same problems?
Two similar workers on a 'team' being given the exact same task is a recipe for disaster. If your work is not directly affected by the people you're working with (i.e if you're not adding to or at least aware of and challenging their work) you are not working together, you're just both doing your own thing at the same time.

Not enough direction has been given

Has enough direction been given?
This is when a piece of work (usually a large project) has no real vision. It might sound like a positive as you'll hear things like 'do your thing' or 'go wild with it' but it's impossible without some direction, and will usually lead to frustration for everyone.

For the client, it’s because it turns out they did have a vision and the work doesn't align. And for the creator, it’s because they have no expectation to meet, so they either end up with half-baked work or feeling like a failure for not delivering what the client wants.

“You've got to build in time for things to go wrong, or some space to breathe.”

​There is not enough time to fail

Is there an end in sight?
Projects with no deadline or end goal will have you feeling lazy, unproductive and slow. But this isn't the case at all. Our brains just need to register some kind of an end so we can plan a way to get there. This one I find particularly affects personal projects where we are a little less strict with production.

Is there enough time to fail?
You've got to build in time for things to go wrong, or some space to breathe. If not, you'll feel huge pressure. This kind of pressure is often romanticised but it is not healthy at all. If you have a super-tight turnaround brief, go easy on yourself with your expectations.

Written by Michael William Lester
Illustration by Michael William Lester
Interview by Marianne Hanoun