#TBT: Dr. No and the Courageous Deletions

Happy #TBT! Here’s an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Dr. No and the Courageous Deletions.

If I start a funky New Orleans-style jazz combo, that will be its name.

But until then, it’s a management philosophy that I’ve recently rediscovered, and my experience leads me to think others could use Dr. No’s sage advice.

Years ago, the first time I ever had a VP of Marketing job, I took over from a seasoned but very traditional consumer products marketing guy, who had been running the department for about a year. Like most things in this company at the time, the marketing group was struggling and frustrated.

So on my first day in the gig, I had a meeting with everyone in the department and asked them to give me a rundown on the projects they were working on. I was shocked to learn that the four-person department was working on almost 50 projects.

Naturally, most of them were in the planning stage or had gotten snagged on something or weren’t performing well or needed more resources, or for one reason or another were not producing results.

I clued into the fact that this group had been simply overcommitted, overextended and defocused. They were wasting little bits and pieces of effort and resources on so many things that nothing meaningful was coming out of the group.

To their shock, I cancelled about 45 of the 50 programs on the spot, during that meeting. In the next week or so, I cancelled two or three more. In the end, the group was working on just two or three projects, and although things improved, even getting those done successfully in the environment we were in was hard.

But at least we had a chance, and by picking the most promising and important of the programs, we were maximizing the possibility that we could make an impact on the company’s dire situation.

Funny though how business life is. You drift away from things before you even realize you’ve done it. It’s easy to let project lists grow because good ideas are everywhere. And, of course, new ideas are always more interesting than old ones, even if some of the old ones have the special charm of actually working.

So, I’ve reacquainted myself with the “courageous deletion” as an old colleague of mine once called them. This is when there’s a lot of support for an idea or a project that either simply isn’t going anywhere or has drifted from its original purpose and whose justification you can really no longer explain succinctly. This is the kind of project everyone likes, but no one can find time to do the right way.

Those projects have to go. Make a courageous deletion. Move on. To make yourself feel better, stick the idea in an ‘ideas’ file so you don’t forget it. Remember though that most of the time “ideas file” ideas are really “ideas we’re never going to do” files, but that’s OK. It’s good fodder for future thought, and it costs you nothing.

And once you’ve made the easy cuts, look again at your active projects. How many are mediocre, good or great? You already know to cut the bad ones, but if you took all the energy behind the mediocre projects and threw them at the good and great projects, what do you suppose would happen?

Cut them. Say “no” to those projects. Today. As my friend Harvey Mackay says, “Say no til your tongue bleeds.” It gives your yeses so much more power!

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