Your Time Is Limited, So Choose Your Projects Wisely

Making the right decision about which projects and partnerships to enter into seems like it should be easy. But it often isn’t.

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What’s more vexing than not having enough time for all of your projects?

Realizing you’ve spent too much time on the wrong project.

Being smart about where you devote your resources — your personal time and energy and finances, as well as those of your organization — means being smart about not just time management, but about choice management.

Felipe A. Csaszar (University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business) and Alfredo Enrione (ESE Business School) note that some of the errors we make are ones of commission, while others are ones of omission. “In business, an omission error means missing a good project, while a commission error means pursuing a bad project,” they wrote in “When Consensus Hurts the Company” in the Spring 2015 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review. An error of commission is when we pursue a project that isn’t the right fit — maybe it doesn’t make sense strategically or is beyond our competence. An error of omission is a missed opportunity — such as not pursuing an acquisition or role that we later regret. Both types of errors are maddening.

Making the right decisions about which projects to enter into seems like it should be easy. But it often is not. Our intuition is not always our best friend.

Part of the problem is that we don’t dig deeply enough when an opportunity presents itself. “When a project fails to achieve its objective, observers frequently chalk it up to politics, poor planning, and weak execution,” wrote Karen A. Brown (Thunderbird School of Global Management), Nancy Lea Hyer (Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University), and Richard Ettenson (Thunderbird) in the Fall 2013 issue of MIT SMR, in “The Question Every Project Team Should Answer.” But their experience, looking at several hundred teams in more than 50 organizations, showed that teams often stumble because they failed to ask and answer the simple question of why they are going down one particular road and not another. “Without a solid why, a team can become overwhelmed by conflict and confusion, and all-important supporters can and will direct their attention elsewhere,” the authors note.

It’s critical, too, to listen to the naysayers — both your internal naysayer and the critical voices of people you work with. Ellen R.


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Comment (1)
Charles Wilson
Thank you for this article. This data is extremely useful and engaging.