The importance of ending side-projects: Re-focusing the firm

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While experimentation can be great, it can also result in a large number of side-projects – many of which go nowhere, yet persist within organizations. This article explores the importance of monitoring and ending side-projects – avoiding the possibility that they mount with time and distract the organization. 

Why side-projects can mount over time

The tendency for side-projects to mount over time occurs when organizations don’t look to rationalize or monitor their projects. Groups are formed – potentially as a pet project of a particular manager, and take on a life of their own, potentially even outliving the original instigator’s involvement or time at the company.

Once you have hired employees, put in place resources to support the project, and it has its own tasks and goals, it can be difficult to end the project. If this happens across multiple different projects, then over time the firm can find itself with more and more projects, each distracting from the overall strategy of the company. 

The danger of side-projects

There are multiple dangers of having side-projects that persist despite being peripheral to the overall strategy of the company. Some common issues include:

Time and resources committed to side-projects

One of the major problems of having multiple side-projects is that they can result in substantial wasted time and resources. Companies only have limited resources that they can draw from. Such resources include finances, employees, and equipment. The greater the proportion of resources that are taken up with side-projects, the fewer resources are available to the main strategy of the company. 

The distraction for top management

Another disadvantage of side-projects is that they can be a distraction for top management. The time available to management is limited, and having to manage many side-projects, that are tangential to the organization’s key strategy, can be a distraction from the core business. The side-projects pull attention away from the key areas that need focus, in turn resulting in a lack of attention to the important areas. 

Individual reluctance to commit effort to any project

Another danger of having a large number of side-projects is that it can make individuals more reluctant to commit effort to any one project. If everyone knows that there are a large number of small projects, that likely will go nowhere, then it can be hard to convince employees to commit themselves to any one project. Having a smaller number of projects that are more key to the company’s success and reduce employee reluctance to commit to any. 

How periodic reviews can help reduce side-projects

One approach to actively reduce side-projects is to periodically review the activities that the company engages in. It can be easy to lose track of the extent of different projects, but periodically taking a pause to evaluate all of the different internal groups within the organization can help identify those that are no longer central to the company’s strategy. While it is difficult to end projects, doing so can be important to freeing up resources, an turn allowing a company to remain nimble and take advantage of new opportunities in a changing environment.