We are conditioned to think of quitting as failure. We praise people for sticking with challenging tasks and assignments even when they are difficult. As the saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But sometimes quitting is the right thing to do.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we work at something, the results just aren’t there. At that point, we need to ask the all-important question: Do we keep trying and hope for the best, or cut our losses and run? The answer isn’t always obvious, but knowing when to discontinue a project or strategy is an essential skill for all professionals.
Why Bad Projects Persist
One of the most difficult decisions executives face is choosing to terminate a poorly performing project or one that is no longer relevant. Whether the reason is due to a change in strategic objectives or the reality of not delivering on key performance metrics, the circumstances are full of emotionally charged issues. In addition to admitting failure, the concept of “sunk costs” is a major factor. And what about promises made to stakeholders, customers and prospects? While these may be legitimate excuses, they aren’t reasons to keep a dying project alive. Here are some key reasons many people continue with bad projects:
- Emotional attachment: People, especially entrepreneurs, get emotionally attached to their ideas and have a hard time letting go.
- Misplaced obligation: We often feel obligated to see ideas through based on time, energy and resources already committed. Additionally, many people and organizations continue with bad projects simply because it’s the way things have always been done.
- Arrogance: While persistence is an admirable quality, when it turns into stubbornness, people refuse to see that their ship is sinking. Ego can lead to thoughts of “the customers don’t know what they want,” “the competition isn’t a threat” and “the customers’ needs are the same as they always were.”
When to Kill a Project
There are a number of situations in business that make quitting perfectly acceptable and even admirable. To determine if you should persist or pull the plug, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are the initial reasons for the project still valid?
- Do the long-term benefits outweigh short-term costs?
- Would the situation get worse if the project is stopped?
- Are resources available to continue the project?
- Is the timing right?
- Are leaders and team members still enthusiastic, committed and focused?
- Are skepticism and resistance declining?
- Is the team motivated to continue working?
- Have critical deadlines and milestones been met? If not, can timelines be adjusted?
- Are there signs of progress?
If you answer yes to most questions, don’t give up. Determine what resources are needed and develop a strategy to overcome obstacles, re-engage stakeholders and respond to critics. After all, everything worth doing requires fortitude and commitment.
Quitting: It’s Time to Let Go
Bad projects are hard to kill. They waste time, money and resources and take valuable attention away from more profitable initiatives. But while bad projects can sap critical resources, they do force companies to take a good hard look at why they are in business and how they operate. In this vein, it’s important to know when to let something go. Don’t cling to a mistake simply because you’ve spent time and resources creating it. In the end, remember to celebrate an ending, because it precedes a new beginning.