What To Do When Your Marketing Project Becomes a Wraith

Stargate Atlantis: Wraith

If you’re not a fan of Stargate: Atlantis, you may not know what a Wraith is. They are one of the most terrifying baddies ever conceived of in SciFi.

Their basic M.O.: they suck the life out of their victims to heal themselves, live forever as a result, and have turned the Pegasus galaxy into their own personal human farmville (now there’s a game I’d play on Facebook).The Wraith never reveal their actual names, they trick their victims with hallucinations, and they have no qualms about lying to your face to achieve their goals.

Sound like any “gurus” you might know? Only kidding. Kind of. Every time I see one of these creeps, I’m reminded of nightmare projects.

You know the kind – they take up all your time, suck the life out of you, diminish your will to live, and just won’t die.

When a client approaches me with what I suspect is a Wraith project, my first step is making sure what we’re dealing with. Here’s how:

Identify a Wraith Project

  • Is the project taking up more and more of your time just to keep the status quo?
  • Is the project hard to name? Nebulous? Hard to define?
  • Is the demand for work increasing while the returns are diminishing?
  • Is your passion for the project about the same as your excitement for a colonoscopy?
  • Is there no end in sight? No way to define “done”?

Four of these traits and you’ve got a Wraith Project. Five… and you’ve got one hell of a nightmare project on your hands. So how does the team of heroes from Atlantis deal with the Wraith?

Kill It Dead. Preferably with Fire or Nukes.

Stargate Atlantis Season Four Cast

Maybe you don’t have access to actual live ordinance. That’s ok – metaphorical ordinance works just as well against Wraith Projects. The first thing to do:

Step 1: Give the Wraith project a Name.

Major Sheppard made a habit of giving the Wraith nondescript names: Steve, Todd, Bob… you get the picture. Victory is a lot easier when the thing you need to defeat has a name. The next step? Get your goals crystal clear.

Step 2: Define Done.

If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s really hard to get there. What does your best-case scenario look like when the Wraith project has been slain? What steps are necessary to get there? Start at the end and work backwards. Then, take stock of what you’ve got on hand.

Step 3: Quantify and Limit Resources and Time

It’s really easy to go all-hands-on-deck, 24/7 on a Wraith project. Against an enemy of this sort, losing yourself in the fight is definitely possible. Quantifying what you have on hand to solve the problem can provide a major boost to your sanity and longevity. An inventory can identify resources you’re burning faster than you can afford to; a time log can keep your hours in check. Still, raw resources without passion or emotional attachment won’t get you where you need to go.

Step 4: Try to Find the Pieces you can still be Passionate About

Passion for survival – whether that’s business or personal – is usually enough to keep you going out of necessity. But in order to sustain through the lowest of the lows and not give up due to straight-out tedium in fighting off a Wraith project, passion for what you’re doing is required. What was the thing that attracted you to the project in the first place? If your answer is money, you may be out of luck. If it was anything else though, try to remember how you felt when you started, how you imagined you would feel when you were finished with the project. It’s really hard to be passionate about something when you keep hitting brick walls.

Step 5: Focus on your Core Strengths

Small business owners have three currencies: Time, Money, and Attention. Time and Money are easy concepts to get; Attention is a bit more complicated – it’s “focused time”. You only have so much attention to give during a day; usually it’s about 3-4 hours when you’re in the groove. The closer the task at hand is to your core competencies, the more you can leverage your attention to get more done. Things outside your core competencies require more attention per task – so you end up getting less done for the same amount of attention invested. Delegating anything that isn’t in your wheelhouse is critical to killing a Wraith project. McKay as a fighter is not as efficient as Ronon. Ronon is most definitely not a scientist. Need a leader? Sheppard is your guy. Everybody has their own core competencies – don’t feel bad about shirking the things that aren’t on your list.

Step 6: Try, Try, Try Again.

When forced to decide, my two favorite episodes from Stargate Atlantis are Season 4’s Trio and Season 2’s Grace Under Pressure. In each, we see our heroes expending attempt after attempt at extracting themselves from seemingly hopeless situations. The consequences of failure? Death. So when faced with a Wraith project, one option is to just keep (strategically) hacking away until the problem is solved. Your other option is to, when all other options are exhausted, let time take care of the problem – even when that’s the last thing in the world you’ll feel like doing.

Finally: realize that failure isn’t fatal.

You’re gonna screw up and fail. It’s just bound to happen. The only thing to do is to fail as quickly and as frequently as possible – ramp up your expertise and resiliency each time, get back up, and keep fighting. Preferably with a good team by your side.

So, what do you think? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

This post is part of the Word Carnival. Each month, 15 of us come together and write blog posts around a particular topic. This month? Close (Biz) Encounters of the Sci-Fi Kind. Check ’em out!

(Header photo: Wraith Attacks Ford, All Rights Reserved by MGM)