Start an Initiative to Kill Initiatives

Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges make a strong argument for starting an initiative to kill initiatives in their April 2010 Harvard Business Review article “The Acceleration Trap.” Far too many “walking dead” projects clog capacity in most organizations. Once superfluous activities have been cut, leaders can allocate resources according to the priority of the remaining projects and initiatives. This requires the application of a consistent set of attractiveness criteria. Shape A/S, a highly successful Danish company that develops mobile applications, applies four criteria to all potential projects:

  1. Does the project include a feature set that will deliver value to the customer?
  2. Does the project provide interesting brand or marketing opportunities that deliver value to the company?
  3. Does the project suit the current human resources on the team?
  4. Does the client believe that the deliverable will be profitable?

On the basis of these criteria, projects are given red, yellow, or green status. As noted in “The View from Above: The Power of Portfolio Management” (Project Management Institute, April 2013), CEO Christian Risom allocates 80 percent of the company’s resources to pursuing projects that are rated green, even if it means saying no to big clients.Use the premortem technique to expand the debate.

If the future of your company depends on the most important initiative, stop assigning people to focus on it only 15 percent of the time. Assign the right people to focus on the project full time, get it done, and then move on to the next project on the priority list. Effectively managing capacity means not just ensuring your employees aren’t overloaded, but ensuring that the right people are working on the right things at the right time. For example, you can use lower-priority projects as development opportunities for less experienced leaders. Proven high performers lose interest quickly in low-priority projects, but less experienced leaders will be eager to prove themselves.

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