Time to scrap those special projects?

Interestingly, on the same day I came across two articles with a similar message: “scrapping ongoing projects is one of the toughest decisions to take – even when we know they are no longer aligned with our direction and strategy”

Extreme example: Iridium phone – idea scrapped after billions of dollars spent

The one article came from the Financial Times and was called “Killing projects is the hardest innovation” and the other came out of the introduction to Bain’s Decision Insight series called “Decisions during change“. It is particularly relevant to us here at Genesis as we hold conversations around our “Brave New World” campaign. Here we are talking to our clients about how their world has probably fundamentally changed since the recent economic and social turmoil – and they can no longer simply afford to continue along the old track. Well, at least without checking if it is still going where they want it to take them!

Path to nowhere

Within this context, we are advising that strategic objectives are changed or at least refreshed – and that ALL projects underway or reviewed to see if they still fit within the new strategy.

Although often there is a clear need to scrap them or at least change them dramatically – the resistance to do so is immense.

The CEO hears many reasons why the projects must stay in place:
“Lets just get to the next milestone and review it again at that stage.”
“We could change the direction somewhat and it might be a better fit with what we are trying to achieve”
And our favorite: “but we have invested so much in this already … ”

The trouble is as long as useless or suboptimal projects continue, the less resources we have to invest in the new more critical ones. So we advocate a robust process that includes:

  • Review context and strategy
  • Refresh / change strategic objectives (maximum five, so you cannot simply add more to what you already have)
  • Make an inventory of all (yes, ALL) projects underway and map them back to strategic objectives and to each other.
  • Put each one through a clear assessment and decision process to decide what to drop
    • Note: none of the decision objectives includes consideration of sunk costs – only future costs
  • Develop a new set of initiatives aimed at achieving your new objectives – with appropriate prioritization and resource allocation.

Playing the devils advocate

Put like this, it sounds really straightforward. But there are underlying behaviors that hinder the process. These include: project ownership, knock to pride in reversing a previous decision, sunk cost fallacy, reputations attached to projects, – to name but a few. This makes the simple process very hard to implement. This is a compelling reason to get some independent facilitation and support to make it happen. This could include facilitating (and adding to) the strategic review, identifying and listing the projects, setting up the decision process and helping you drive through to implementation. But as important, being that external voice that challenges some of the reasons given as to why projects should continue.

Project spring-clean

So – perhaps it is time for your “project spring-clean” and focus on new strategic initiatives better aimed at your changed business environment. You will find the process refreshing and it could invigorate your team as well.


Mail me at sgifford@genesis-esp.com if you would like to discuss how we might assist you in this process.



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