When to kill a project?

Would you kill a project with these attributes?

  • Wrong product

  • Wrong time

  • Customers are not asking for it

  • It is late and the chances of delivery of a functional product are low

  • Current product is failing in the field

  • The development team does not understand the customer's requirements

  • Weak management team

  • Weaker technical team

  • Three-year track record of failure

  • No sense of awareness of the present or a sense of urgency (within the management team)

This project happened to fall in the top ten programs in a 100+ program portfolio we prioritized in this organization. A significant investment had been made in the development effort to date. The product would represent a major portion of the organizations projected three year revenue growth plan. The project was late and getting later. Would you kill it? What are the alternatives?

We've seen this many times; programs that should have been killed long ago are kept going because no one has a mechanism to "ask why." And given the large investment to date, and the fact that it was "almost done" according to the team, we tend to see organizations like this holding on to the "lipsticked pig" too long.

Given the economic situation now, there are many decisions that should be CHALLENGED like this one. Could those resources be used more effectively on other top ten programs? Is there an alternative available to upgrade the current failing product to fill the gap in the product line left by killing the future product The portfolio alignment process tends to force these decisions sooner than later.


We developed a process called Challenge to "ask why." Every time we've done this we've gotten a breakthrough. It forces the team through the process of asking the question "What are the alternatives to Project X?" If Project X is CHALLENGED and makes it through, then there is a better defined success criteria for it and an improved chance of success. More importantly, it gives people a mechanism for positively questioning a decision to continue or to kill a project effort, without the fear of being criticized as having a "can't-do" attitude.