Get Projects Done

How to get projects done successfully.

Plans and backlogs are only intentions. We need joint support and resources to get projects done. First of all we need clarity and shared awareness to create the appropriate momentum to successfully realize projects. «Emotional contrasting» and «implementation methods» are proven psychological methods to help us reaching our private and shared goals.

In agile projectmanagement we utilize shorter cycle times to stay on course and to reduce risks. (Daily) Standups and retrospectives are communication formats to realign our actual taskload with the view of the customer and to integrate lessons learned on the fly, to the benefit of the whole team, the project and finally the customer. Despite this each project and each individual team member may face situations, where we get stuck and where we have problems to act according to our intitial intention, actually to what we initially wanted to do.

This problem, that the intention and the desired action actually diverges is even higher in traditional project managements methods (e.g. waterfall) where planning cycles are usually longer. It is even more obvious when you think of your good resolutions at the end respectively begin of each year (to loose weight, to do more exercise, to eat healthier, et cetera), which fail very likely.

What can we do to bring the intention and the execution closer together?

Psychological insights

Peter M. Gollwitzer is a US-based professor for psychology (University of New York). Based on research by former and legendary psychologist Kurt Lewin he studied the questions of intent an volition and developed a method how to deal with it. He was supported by Gabriela Oettingen a professor in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and at the university of Hamburg.

The developed two steps to close the gap between intention and execution: Mental Contrasting and Intention Implementation (MCII).

Mental contrasting

If we want to realize a project and reach our goals we often assume good supporting conditions and neglect possible obstacles. This is in particular true if we estimate the effort to implement a work package: Intuitively we assume uninterrupted and disturbance free conditions, which do not exist in reality, and underestimate the actual workload. Mental contrasting asks, as kind of upfront risk assessment to consider things which could go wrong and how this would affect the planned execution. Think about it as a kind of brainstorming and open appreciation of things which could arise, though they are not desired.

Mental contrasting improves goal commitment in face of hindrances and connects you mentally closer with the goal.

Intention implementation

Intention implementation is the second step, according to Gollwitzer/Oettingen. Intention implementation focuses more analytically to create a range of if-this-then-that conditions. It connects to the emotional connection with the goal and with the issues you have in mental contrasting: If this incident happens, what can and will I or we do then?

At best these conditional action steps are thought through carefully and consequently, are reflected and shared in a team and are written down finally, a simple graphical notation might be sufficient. However, MCII is focused on individuals, the utilization for groups has to be developed using further available methods.

WOOP as Instant application

The two steps are often abbreviated as MCII. If you look for resources you find plenty of scientific articles from Gollwitzer and Oettingen.

Gabriela Oettingen created with her team a simplified version for personal utilization called WOOP (for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) and created a dedicated website and even an App. Though it's simplified and does neither focusing on project management nor on the challenges of organizing groups and resources to make them effective, it's ideal to get a first taste of it and to apply it for personal benefit.

Note the importance to imagine the desired output at first, so that you get the internal momentum to move ahead and to deal with resistance and overcome obstacles.


The implementation of personal resolutions fails as often as the execution of project plans. To reduce the gap between the intention and the outcome two psychological proofen methods exist, called mental contrasting and intention implementation. Both help to get projects done. Both methods also strengthen responsibility and ownership of your ambitions and projects.

From an information theory point this approach connects emotionally with the desired outcome and advances the awareness and clarity about possible action items later to reach the goal. There are further methods available to anchor these approaches in group settings, e.g. Pro Action Café and Design for Wiser Action from «Art of Hosting». Contact me if you are interested and look for further information and support.


  1. Univ.-Prof. Peter Gollwitzer
  2. Univ.-Prof. Gabriela Oettingen
  3. WOOP My life
  4. Art of Hosting