Pants. I put them on every weekday

Last year I had 200% turnover on a project for a client. It was a perfect storm of terribleness. Difficult client group going through an executive transformation. High profile project under intense scrutiny. High financial stakes. No clear roadmap. Shifting priorities. Competing agendas. Unclear decision making process. In the end, there were 8 end-to-end designs by 5 companies for what should have been a fairly simple app. I’ve seen the pattern elsewhere; it follows a fairly predictable escalation path:

1. People complain about the project

2. People complain about each other

3. People complain about management

4. People complain about everyone and everything

5. People quit

There’s a difference between things are bad and let’s go out back and roll in broken glass just to feel something. Things are bad is tolerable because you have some measure of control over its resolution and/or you have some understanding of the situation. The escalating factors are ambiguity, futility, and pressure. Any one of those is tolerable, but their combined effects are multiplicative. There’s a reason Zeus chose fruitless labor as a punishment for Sisyphus. The only thing that could make Sisyphus more miserable would be adding high stakes to the turn of the stone. Get that rock to the top of the mountain or the company goes under. We’ve invented daily lives more terrible than the worst punishments of ancient mythology; that should terrify us. 

The escalating factors remain the same regardless of stage. So the remediation path remains the same, although the intensity with which remediation is pursued correlates to how far the discontent has escalated. Reduce the ambiguity, futility, and/or pressure. In-house teams have more levers to pull in this regard. Sometimes as an agency, your only remaining lever is your presence, to stay or go.