Foster Your Projects

3 min read

I have great admiration for people who foster dogs (or any animal really, but I’m a dog person so that’s where my brain goes). I love dogs, so much, in fact, my wife and I have 3 of them. The thought of bringing a dog into our household, caring for it, training it and then finding another home for it is hard. I think I would have a hard time doing that (and I don’t think a 4th dog in our house would be good for anybody), but I get it. People who foster dogs know that when they find the right home for a dog, they can save another one. They are doing what’s best for the animals they care for. It has to be hard, but it’s the right thing to do. The alternatives are to not help anymore animals, or end up becoming an animal hoarder and making the situation for the animals and themselves worse.

While your project at work isn’t the same as a living being, it is something you nurture, something you help to grow and develop. Typically, you work hard to do what is best for the project and the customer. That investment can very easily lead to emotional attachment. Whether we are talking about an entire project, a piece of code, a design or a particular approach or process you put in place, an attachment to that thing can very quickly become a detriment. Once the attachment becomes strong enough that you are unwilling to let go, make changes or share ownership, that attachment becomes a burden to both you and the project.

I have seen quite a few people over the years grow this level of attachment and as a result become the sole owner and gate keeper to a project. That makes them very important. That also makes them a bottleneck for progress and a huge liability. Should that person win the lottery and stop coming to work, nobody knows how to fix, enhance or administer that person’s “baby”. Sure, somebody can figure it out, but that’s going to take time and pull somebody off of something else that requires their attention. Even worse than that, after years and years with the same company, I have seen people do this with one project after another and over the course of time, they essentially become project hoarders. Now they are an even bigger bottleneck and a much larger liability.

I like to approach a project as if I am its foster parent (or one of their foster parents… in an ideal situation the team takes collective ownership of a project). I will care for it, nurture it and do what I think is best for the project, with the intention of sharing ownership with the team, and if all goes well, finding it a “forever home” so it continues to get the level of attention it needs and I can focus my efforts on the next project that needs my attention.

Foster your projects, don’t be a project hoarder.