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Would you have the courage to kill your “puppy”?

Cute puppy

Few people have the courage to kill their "puppy"

Before you call animal protection agencies, I need to warn you upfront that this blog post is not about taking the life of man’s best friend. This post is about making difficult decisions – very difficult decisions when it comes to ending your own initiatives. For the record, I love animals but I found the analogy so powerful that I decided to use it to support my perspective [thanks to André for the analogy].

I wrote about an organization’s ability to create, select and grow new ideas in an earlier blog post. I already highlighted 2 very different methods of launching new initiatives and in this post, I want to write about a leader’s ability to kill an initiative before it reaches full potential. No sane person launches an initiative or a project with the objective of not being successful.

Too many organizations lack the ability to innovate so when an organization has the amazing ability to generate new ideas, it is a wonderful thing. In such organizations, employees are motivated and the company makes sure it will continue to grow by bringing innovations to the market. Such organizations typically have a healthy pipeline of ideas that help them re-invent themselves. Some large organizations even have the goal to generate more than 30% of their revenues from products created in the last 24 months. That’s an aggressive but worthwhile strategy.

The challenge I have seen is with smaller organizations where the initiator of the idea is also typically its leader. In such circumstances, the leader no longer has the ability to take a step back and see things as they are – not as he wants them to be. After investing money and personal energy and imagining such high potential, making the right decision about pursuing the project (or not) when the results aren’t there is nearly impossible. The emotional ties to the project are so strong, it requires a lot of courage to make the decision to kill the project.

What do you do when the initiative doesn’t deliver on its expectation? Do you keep moving forward or do you put an end to the project? When do you know when enough is enough? How do you know you didn’t kill the idea too soon?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to these questions except it depends… It is obvious that the decision to end an initiative is much easier to make when you are not emotionally associated with the initiative. Not having taken part of the initiative makes it easier to use clear-cut criteria and apply them. If the project didn’t generate the expected revenue or doesn’t meet which ever other criteria used to evaluate it, it is much easier to decide to cancel it – to make a rational decision instead of an emotional one.

As with every thing in life, no one can ever be certain that the decision was the right one but I firmly believe that making no decision (or maintaining the status quo) is worst than making a decision. Isn’t insanity the behavior of repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome?

As for your initiatives, stop seeing them as puppies. Take a step back and if you must kill your project, see the experience as an opportunity to develop new skills that you will need further down the line. As Agile people keep saying “Inspect and Adapt” which is a clever way of saying “Learn from your mistakes, and move on”. Very few large success happened on the first attempt. See your failed initiatives as a pre requisite for your next success.

I’ll tell you about some of my “puppies” in an upcoming post…


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