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How to Manage Challenging Projects and Turn Them into Opportunities

Situations that seem difficult or unfair may hold hidden opportunities. If we aren't open to seeing those opportunities, we could miss the reward on the other side.

 

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Careers are filled with ups and downs. Projects we like and projects we dislike. Sometimes, we’re forced to work through things that we don’t excel at or things we may not enjoy. During those moments, we can get understandably frustrated. We might feel compelled to go on but with resentment or completely change tracks to escape the situation. 

What can be hard to see in those moments is that situations that seem bad, difficult or unfair may also be opportunities. If we aren't open to seeing the opportunity and if we don’t deal with the challenges head-on, we could miss the reward on the other side.

 

About the time I almost missed my opportunity.

About fourteen years ago, I started my career as a research assistant with an IT services giant in India. It was a great working environment that offered me the right mix of fun and challenging work assignments. And, while I was part of an all-male team, my opinions and outputs were always respected without prejudice. 

When I became pregnant with my daughter, my team was very supportive. I had severe morning sickness and they allowed me to come in later than usual. When the doctor advised bed rest, they got comfortable with me working from home. All that support really helped me get through an otherwise stressful time of my life. 

 

When I got back from maternity leave, everything changed.

I was treated like someone who wasn’t ready to take on big projects or responsibilities. My colleagues likely assumed that with my newborn I wouldn't be focused or that I wouldn’t have enough time for big projects. 

I got moved from my client-facing role where I was spearheading product development with multiple internal and external teams to a support division where my core responsibility was to resolve issues with existing products. But not just any products, failing products. 

The systems I was assigned to fix had long turnaround times for resolving issues and created headaches for upper management. Things were chaotic to say the least. And, on top of that, my team was reduced from a group of experienced professionals to a handful of fresh graduates. 

I had little say in this change which made me miserable to be there. Combined with a head swirling in post-delivery emotions, I had no motivation to do any meaningful work.

I was faced with a choice. I could either accept the situation and figure out a way through the mess or start a job hunt. As a new mom, I was nervous about starting a job hunt or picking this up as a bigger battle in my organization. I was also reluctant to leave an organization that had been so helpful and supportive of me during my difficult pregnancy. 

 

Reluctantly, I made up my mind to accept the situation.

Once I made my decision, I was determined to make things work. Here’s how I overcame my frustration, got focused, and made the most out of my situation: 

 

  • I got organized and stayed organized. You can’t do anything with chaos in the driver's seat. Disorganization causes unnecessary frustration and confusion. Before I did anything, I spent time organizing priorities, researching ad-hoc solutions, and managing communication.

  • I focused on the familiar. Almost nothing is new. An overwhelming majority of the issues I faced were similar to something I encountered in the past. Once I realized this, my situation was a lot less overwhelming.

  • I used knowledge from past projects and experiences. I started to think about how this project related to things I did in the past. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. Instead, I found connections and used them to drive solutions.

  • I identified problems and potential solutions. I made sure there was a proper catalog of problems and potential solutions. This prevented the team from repeatedly trying the same solutions over and over again. It also allowed us to solve issues that repeated quickly.


I soon realized that my situation wasn’t as messy as I thought it was.

I mean, it was surely painful to onboard a group of fresh recruits when I was learning the systems myself, but there was a thrill in getting to know new problems and solutions.

These steps helped me find clarity and turn a project I disliked into an opportunity. Once I had a clear head, my team and I decreased the response time of our system from 1 week to 3 hours. And, as a cherry on top, this whole turnaround was recognized as a significant win not just for us, but for the organization as a whole. As a result, I was pulled onto multiple other projects to drive similar efficiencies.

 

Remember, you’re not going to love every project, but every project is a chance to improve yourself or your organization.

I don’t work in the same company today, but reminiscing about those days still makes me feel proud of what I managed to achieve in a tough situation. If you believe in yourself and your capabilities, have patience and continue to solve the problems in front of you.

 

Data Unabridged was a generous sponsor of Women in Consumer Finance 2022. They support the personal and professional development of women throughout the industry.