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Diving into a new project – four fresh insights

Hi there, For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been a part of the team working on the Dutch Corona app,

Work in Progress

August 3 · Issue #46 · View online
The newsletter about work

Hi there,
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been a part of the team working on the Dutch Corona app, helping to iron out the final details before a mid-August test launch. A lot’s been said about COVID apps, and about this one in particular. But from close up, I can see all the work that’s gone into making it a user-friendly tool, as well as one that’s armed to the teeth when it comes to privacy and security protections.
It’s been a while since I’ve jumped into a completely new project. Fascinating how that works.

Here are my four insights on diving into something new (some of which remain helpful long after the newness has worn off).
Use a digital scratchpad
Just a week ago, I stressed how important your calendar can be for weathering interruptions. But during my first few days on this new project, I consciously pushed aside my calendar and my to-do list.
I opened a super-simple Google Doc instead, as a scratch pad. Rough notes from meetings went in it, a list of who does what, links to key documents and systems, and finally a list of priorities, which I continued to tweak throughout my first week. 
Now that I’ve got my bearings, I’m going back to my trusty tools. But they were clearly not up to the task of handling a flash flood of new information. A doc makes it so easy to move around text, lists, links, and images. I love finding new tools, but sometimes falling back on a simple document works best.
When you face something like this, don’t feel you have to hang on to your software for dear life. Choose what works now. 
In those first heady days of a new project, opening a fresh document meant I didn’t get distracted by the existing structure of my to-do list and notes. Bonus: it gave me the ultimate freedom to switch gears and create a new kind of overview, specially suited to this project.
Make full use of your newbie status
Nothing boosts your understanding faster than asking questions about how things work. Choices have likely been made already, and you’ll want to absorb that information as quickly as you can.
I keep announcing it: I’m going to ask lots of dumb questions. Bear with me. And once I have specific things to ask, I often say something like: This has probably been discussed at length, but could you tell me a little bit about why the team chose this route? 
That’s not only a great way for you to acquire knowledge swiftly; your new perspective can also provide fresh insight to the team. Perhaps an earlier decision doesn’t seem so wise after all, now that you’ve mentioned it. 
So make full use of your newbie status. Before you know it, you’ll be part of the furniture and this wonderful opportunity for accelerated learning will be gone.
Resist the urge to overhaul the system
I’m sure it won’t surprise you, but I tend to have strong preferences when it comes to systems and methods. However, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not a good idea to try to make everything over to your own specs right from the start. 
Even if a new system would help, what it costs you in the short term can outweigh the benefits. You’re sure to meet with resistance and that can detract from more important matters: getting up to speed on what’s required to get results, learning which steps are crucial to complete the project, and figuring out who does what. So focus on that. Work with whatever systems are in place.
You’ll find that going along with a system or method that’s new to you always yields fresh insight. (Even if it’s just: This system is 🚮.)
Share what strikes you (and what concerns you most)
As the new person on a project, you’re in a unique position to see where things go awry. Your view is not yet muddled by your own contributions, and if you’re lucky, you won’t have any preconceived notions about other team members. Write down what you see as soon as possible. Try to identify on Day One what concerns you most.
Tell the team or a manager what you see. It can be a fantastic way to find out more about a project’s background when you’re new.
And this can be a useful exercise anytime for bringing your priorities into sharper focus: What strikes you? What concerns you most? Share your insights. It will often help you find the best path to take in your own work.
So whether you’re new on a project or just want a fresh perspective: Dare to push aside your regular tools if that might help. Think like a newbie, remember that the work itself matters more than particular systems or methods, and share your insights and concerns. 

Good luck and have a great week!

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