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If your project is a turkey, kill it early

Chopping Axe

Right, I might be branded a heretic, but I’m going to say it.

Organisations that deliver every project that they kick off (with the project’s scope intact) are either extremely lucky, extremely risk averse, or extremely misguided.

This sounds like a contrarian view, and may even sound a little controversial.  In fact, you might (quite logically) be thinking that an organisation that delivers every project is in fact extremely successful. I beg to differ….


Chopping Axe
Bad projects should be axed sooner rather than later!

As all of us who have worked on projects know, it’s extremely difficult to accurately estimate the costs and benefits at the very outset.  Whether your project is agile or waterfall, the reality is that you’ll get a much better understanding of scope, benefits and costs as the project progresses.  However well-intentioned the project, you might find that it’s just not feasible once you’ve “opened the hood” and had a better look inside.


Even the most talented teams sometimes initiate projects that turn out to be turkeys. A key differentiator between organisations is how they behave when they find out that the project is going to be an absolute flop. In fact, the way organisations react can be poles apart depending on the organisational culture, and whether the executive encourage their team to tell them the cold hard facts.  Four broad categories of response are explained below – these aren’t extensive by any means, but give a flavour of response:


EGO FOCUSSED: In some organisations, even “turkey projects” will continue if they have strong executive sponsorship.  In organisations like this, business cases are largely “tick box” exercises. Some ego-focussed organisations are run based on fear, and this will lead to information being subverted.  The sad truth is that the exec will probably never hear the truth, as middle management act as a “filter” because they fear for their jobs. Within Ego-Focussed organisations, there is often a “blame culture”, since nobody wants to take accountability.  Objective and independent Change Management professionals will have a hard time in organisations like this; they will be treated with suspicion, and stakeholder management will be key.


BAD BUREAUCRACY:  Some organisations drown in the “red tape” of bureaucracy   Even if projects aren’t going to deliver any benefit, they continue anyway.  You’ll hear phrases like “Hey, we fought hard for that budget, I’m not giving it back to corporate!” And “This project is on the roadmap…. We have to deliver it despite what the figures tell us”.  In organisations like this, it’s hard to get projects initiated, so nobody is going to give up. Delivering something (anything!) is considered better than waiting for the next year’s planning cycle.


SINGLE-MINDED DELIVERY OF PROJECTS: In these organisations, all projects will continue.  Once initiated, the only objective is to deliver them.  In fact, it’s rare that anyone will look at the business case after version 1.0.  These organisations feel like factories for delivering projects, and there’s often a focus on delivering quickly.  The danger however is that these organisations may inadvertently deliver the wrong thing quickly.


BENEFITS FOCUSSED: In a benefits focussed organisation, a “turkey” project would be paused when the cracks appear. The team reflect, and determine whether there is a better way of delivering Customer and Business benefit.  If there is, then perhaps the project is re-scoped.  If there isn’t, then the project is scrapped.


In my view, benefits focussed organisations are the ones that are most likely to succeed in today’s competitive environment.  There is simply no room for organisations that rely on “luck” to deliver their projects.


If an organisation truly does deliver every project it initiates, then I maintain that it is either very lucky, very risk averse (and only chooses “safe” projects which won’t set the world on fire and won’t gain competitive advantage) or just simply misguided.


So, what type of organisation do you work for? And what type of organisation do you want to work for?



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About the author:

Adrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit

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1 thought on “If your project is a turkey, kill it early”

  1. Pingback: PMs. Time to start digging OUT of the hole your project is in… | Way Of The Maverick

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