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Project Planning and the Signs That Tell You When to Quit

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We know we’re supposed to plan projects, rather than figuring everything out as we go. But as guest blogger Heather Foley explains, sometimes the step-by-step planning process can indicate when it’s time to quit.

Nobody sets out to fail. And there are countless sayings that encourage us all to strive for success. Have you heard “don’t be a quitter” or “if at first you don’t succeed…?” But is that always sound advice? Is that always the best path? After all, there are other sayings that seem to contradict this approach, such as “don’t throw good money after bad,” and “know when to cut your losses.”

So, what is the right thing to do? As with so many things in life, it’s a judgement you have to make based on the specific situation you’re in. Next time you embark on a project, try the following steps to plan for success, but also to recognize the time to quit.

Business Planning: When to Quit?

© Flickr user plantoo47

1. Establish a clear ROI

Before you embark on any new project, you need to be clear about what type of return you want and within what sort of timescales. Without this, it’s very difficult to identify throughout the project whether you’re on track, whether you’re likely to succeed, or whether you can see early on that the chances of a reasonable return are, in practice, too low to continue.

2. Plan review points

You should also ensure you put clear review points into the project plan. It can sometimes feel like you’re slowing down the project, but these points are critical and pivotal. The temptation, especially if you are concerned you are falling behind, is to ignore these review points when they arrive. However, the discipline of keeping to them will bring great returns.

3. Be objective and analytical

Unless you are genuinely objective and analytical in these reviews, they will be useless. You need to ask yourself tough questions such as:

  • Where did we expect to be at this stage?
  • How much should the return be at this stage?
  • Is the new product or service still looking attractive?

Don’t be afraid of the answers, otherwise, your decision will be based on flawed information.

4. Explore options

You should always be exploring the options available to you. But, when you’re conducting the review outlined above, you must look beyond the project to consider whether the time and money you’re investing in this program is still the best option.

Options in Decision Making

© Flickr user Bill Ohl

5. Difficult doesn’t mean impossible

Very few projects go like clockwork, entirely hassle or obstacle free. Indeed, some feel like a daily battle. When this is the case, it is useful to consider whether the mental energy, as well as the time and money, is just too much of a drain. Although it’s difficult to be totally self-aware, you must try. Rarely do great results come easily. So, the skill you must display is that of differentiating between continuing when something’s hard and quitting because the chance of success has receded too far.

6. Swallow your pride

There is a strong link to pride, sometimes, on a project. It is ‘your baby’. Everyone knows it is yours and to even contemplate quitting makes you immediately feel like a failure.

Whilst it’s true that deciding to quit a project, and telling people is uncomfortable, it’s not as bad as getting to the end, having used valuable time, money, energy and other resources only for it to fail to provide a decent return.

Stopping part way through, if linked to clear decision-making throughout a well-managed project, will actually enhance your reputation. If you are genuinely driving the business forward, nobody expects you to get it right all of the time.

7. Make the decision

Heather FoleyFinally, if you’ve looked at the evidence, checked that it’s not sentiment or pride that’s clouding your judgement, you just need to make the decision about moving on or quitting. Whether the decision is to continue, or to quit, apply your next moves with the same energy and belief, until it’s time to review again!

When you embark on a project, it’s demotivating to imagine that it will ever fail, and with good planning and organisation, there’s no reason why it should. Sometimes, though, things just don’t seem to be in your favour. At times like that, it’s better to be realistic, and brave enough to pull the plug.

Even if you do have to admit defeat, try to see something positive in it. After all, the great and the good have all experienced failure too. WD40 is so called because the inventors only found success with the 40th attempt at making the product. And take heed from the words of Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Heather Foley is a consultant at, a bespoke provider of HR technology and consultancy

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