Erasing your Project Identity

This post originally appeared on August 30, 2010 on

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, recently commented that at some point in the future, people may need a ‘reset button’ on their identity. The basic idea he had was that when we are young, we engage in activities that we may not want to be associated with as we mature and start being members of mainstream society. As more and more recruiters start to google each and every applicant, our past, as recorded by Google and other search engines, becomes more and more of a hindrance to our futures.

I find this concept novel, but think that as naive as we are as high school and college students, eventually the pervasiveness of technology in our world will make it so that this lesson is learned soon after we are taught that the stove is hot and the backyard pool is dangerous. It won’t be something we generally worry about because we’ll learn what to post and when to post it, just like we’ll learn reading, writing and arithmetic.

But if that’s true of our personal lives, what about our project identities? Once, and likely still today, each of us has a file in our manager’s desk drawer that contains all of the past reviews, time off requests and possibly even official sanctions and reprimands. As all of this information recorded on dead trees transforms into  data on a server in the cloud, what safeguards are in place to keep it confidential in today’s world where top secret government documents can be removed on a CD labeled 'Lady Gaga’?

Personnel records are not the only items kept electronically; our project documents are almost always kept that way as well. Sure, you likely have a stack of signed capital request forms (CRFs), project charters or requirements documents moldering in a corner drawer or cabinet somewhere, but every revision of that document is likely also contained on a server or possibly your PCs local hard drive as well. What happens when that first requirements document you wrote, you know that one with a 5% misspelling rate because you forgot to spell check it, with grammatical errors in every other sentence and with completely non-standard project language used, is put into the hands of your new CIO as an example of your 'regular work’. Is there a way to have your project history reset?

Reset #1, Don’t Make Mistakes

Probably the most unreasonable and unlikely option, I mention it first to remove it from discussion. Sure, we’ve all met that one project person who seems to have the Midas Touch and never is caught making a mistake, but its rare and unlikely to last for more than a short time.

Reset #2, Different Scenery

The first way to reset your project identity is to simply switch employers. Having worked for several different large corporations in the last few years, those original requirements documents I wrote as a junior BA are (thankfully) buried on some shared drive at my first employer. Sure, I have a copy of them on a CD in a desk drawer, but they don’t live anywhere they can be accessed by anyone but me.

As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve still had a few less than optimal requirements documents. Different reasons, such as lack of time to thoroughly vet the requirements or lack of review on the part of my stakeholders, is to blame for these unsightly blemishes, but they are part of my permanent record with each of my employers and the documents have me listed as the author, not my stakeholders.

Reset #3, Bury It

Given that we’re all going to make mistakes and that we can only realistically move away from so many jobs before we earn a reputation as a short-term employee that isn’t interested in sticking around, we can start to come up with ways to hide our mistakes.

The best way to bury your bad output is by producing a lot of quality work now and in the future. Producing excellent quality work will go a long way in removing any stigma associated to your past failures.

Moving Forward

Some of the methods I’ve mentioned will be effective in the short term while others will produce success for the remainder of your career. What are some other ways you can think of to reset your career mistakes (besides large electromagnets in the data center)?