If you run a sizable company, you likely have many projects going on simultaneously. Some of those projects will be far more important than others. One or two might even determine the company’s fate.
As important as these projects are, they sometimes hit a snag. Maybe you’re not getting the results you expected, or trying to complete them is taking too long.
When organizations try to fix underperforming projects, they often take one of two diametrically opposed routes:
Flawed Fix #1: They add resources.
Most commonly, when a project underperforms, people try to fix it by adding resources. They throw money at it, bring in all kinds of consultants, introduce rafts of metrics, put in coordination functions, hire extra people, and so on. It’s add, add, add, add.
But, if you’re not certain why the project isn’t working, then when you add, you unintentionally add in needless complexity. Now the reasons the project isn’t working are further buried, and you’ve added additional dynamics – like bureaucracy and unnecessary reporting – that slow it down all the more.
You’ve also added pressure, and it’s likely the people who are involved are now thoroughly confused. They’re not quite sure who their leader is anymore, and they’re unclear on their priorities. To reduce the pressure to a manageable level, staff members sit back, resigned to waiting the project out.
Flawed Fix #2: They cut resources
The second strategy that organizations use is the antithetical one. They try to fix the project through cutting. They often don’t call it cutting. They decide: “This executive, or this system, or this management layer is the problem – let’s get rid of them.” They may rationalise it by saying “it’ll simplify the business” and “we’ll save cost.”
And while the impulse to simplify is good, what often happens is that they’ve inadvertently cut something crucial. Some of the people who’ve been cut walk out with undocumented know-how and important relationships. A factor that seemed to have no direct contribution to results turns out to be key. Often, the scapegoat’s performance was just a symptom of wider confusion.
Finally, the people left still don’t know what it is they’re trying to accomplish, and they have fewer resources with which to accomplish it. Cutting doesn’t automatically mean that something is simpler, it may just mean that you’ve overstretched the people who are still there, so they’re still not going to get the work done.
So if well-meaning-but-misguided adding or cutting doesn’t work, what does?
The leader who defaults to adding or cutting is like the amateur musician or golfer who assumes that they would improve if only they had a different guitar or set of clubs. They spend their time trading equipment, when they should be working to get more out of the gear they already have.
The same dynamic applies to underperforming projects. Instead of adding or cutting – and implicitly criticising the resources in place – it’s better to start by assuming that the resources there are probably pretty good.
In fact, the existing resources may be much better than just ‘pretty good’ – they may be excellent, and amazingly may have already solved many of your problems without you, or they, realising it. You need to more fully understand and use what’s there.
At BassClusker, that’s the approach we’ve been taking for over a decade. We look at what’s there, understand what’s strong (especially unrecognised strengths and strengths that can be transferred from other contexts), how those strengths contribute to current results (singly and in combination), and recombine the elements into a more successful mix.
The result is dramatic improvements in growth and productivity without capital investment.