Are you stuck in a never ending project spin cycle?

Posted May 12, 2010 in Latest News & Insights

Change champion and Executive Roundtable friend, Peggy Grall recently returned from a conference and shared one of her big takeaways in her recent newsletter Change Bytes.  We loved it so much, we asked Peggy if we could share it with our readers.  Enjoy!

One of the highlights came from keynote speaker, Harvard Business School professor Rebecca Henderson, who spoke to us on the subject of organizations being stuck, and how they can get un-stuck. She reported on her research into how organization’s chose, manage and succeed/or not, with projects.

She found that organizations, and in particular the senior managers, tend to overestimate their capacity for completing projects. She told of company after company where the list of active projects outnumbered people to lead them. She also commented on a universal phenomenon – that successful people routinely overestimate their capacity. She said that, in her experience, only the ‘severely depressed’ are accurate when estimating what they can realistically complete. This really rang so true to me.

One of the key elements in assuring success with a change project is to take a hard look at your list of competing projects. Dr. Henderson kept playfully referring to Project #26. Project #26, she said, is characterized by being that project that is:

  • A good project, worthy of completion
  • Everyone’s favorite
  • Has been around for a while – keeps getting voted in – but not finished

And, here’s the kicker – Project #26 will never get finished.

Why? Because there simply isn’t the manpower to bring it home. In fact, if it did get the attention it deserves, it would become the ‘overload tipping point’ for the team or organization tasked with its completion.

What do you do with project #26? You kill it! That’s right. Get everyone involved with it in a room and come clean. Admit that it’s not going to get done. Own up to the fact that it can’t get done, and that to keep waving it in front of the poor saps responsible for it just demoralizes them. Just let it go. It’ll hurt for a few minutes, and then everyone will release a collective sign of relief and turn their attention, and newfound time and resources, to the rest of the organization’s key projects.

Managing capacity is a key ingredient in the success of an organization. When people tackle and finish projects and initiatives, they feel good about themselves; they feel energized and ready to tackle more difficult assignments.

Do your employees (and yourself?) a favor –  take stock of the work before you. Be realistic about what will and won’t get done this quarter, this year. And be brave enough to say NO to those efforts that will only drag your energy and enthusiasm down, no matter how exciting they may look to you. Sometimes it takes more courage to say no than to keep saying yes to every great idea that comes along. By being diligent about choosing among projects you’ll ensure success and keep people engaged and on track.

So, what do you need to say no to?

Happy leading!


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