Brain power

How to know when to kill off corporate activities

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

A central part of Vijay Govindarajan’s Three Box System is the middle box, which urges organizations to stop doing activities that are not producing results.  These so-called zombie activities tend to suck in resources that could be better deployed elsewhere.  Just as with the zombies found in movies, they are often very hard to kill off, with political factors often ensuring they drag on (and on, and on).

Columbia University’s Rita McGrath outlines six ways that you can better prepare your organization to kill off zombie projects and help ensure scarce resources are utilized in the most effective way.

  1. Predetermine criteria – Projects often drag on for emotional reasons rather than rational ones, so it can help set the stage for projects to be culled if clear criteria and targets are established before they even began.  While McGrath still advocates using judgment on the final decision, it does at least provide you with clear rationale to use.
  1. Involve outsiders – We’re often the worst judges of those things that are closest to us, so having some people unfamiliar with the project judging its merits can help to really cut to the chase and overcome any emotional attachments and blindspots.
  1. Codify reusable learning – While freeing up resources is a key motive for ending projects, it’s also invaluable to learn why projects fail, and what lessons can be taken forward into future projects to help them succeed.  McGrath advocates trying to codify this process so that it becomes straightforward to execute.
  1. Celebrate success – Too often, we only regard successes as projects that met their goals.  In reality, however, any innovation is largely uncertain when it begins, so even should it fail, you have learned that it’s not viable, and importantly, why it isn’t.  That learning should be celebrated just as much as ‘successes’ are.
  1. Communicate widely – There is a lot spoken and written about the ‘culture’ of innovation, and while a lot of that falls foul of buzzword bingo, the willingness to try (and the courage to fail) is not something that’s present in many organizations.  It’s vital, therefore, that outcomes are communicated widely, even when they’re ‘failures’ to show that it’s trying new things that’s most important.
  1. Provide closure – McGrath advocates having some form of event to provide closure for each project that is scrapped.  She advocates something symbolic like a wake or memorial, but whatever you choose to use, the event should draw a line under your zombie and prevent its revitalization at a later date.

Few organizations can afford to fritter away resources, whether they’re financial, political, or human.  The ability to kill off projects that suck in too much of each is therefore a crucial ability for any company that strives to be innovative.  These tips will help you to do just that.

Article source: How To Know When To Kill Off Corporate Activities.

Header image source: Shutterstock.

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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.
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