Strategy Execs: Stop Chasing Quick Wins

Last Updated Mar 30, 2010 6:37 AM EDT

If you're like many of the executives I work with, the number-one issue that limits your productivity is that you spend too much time on activities that add too little value.

One of the causes of this drain on your time and energy are 'quick win' projects.

These projects often emerge at the end of a team or departmental 'away day'. Following a brainstorm of potential ideas to improve performance, each idea is reviewed on two dimensions: (1) overall value impact; and (2) ease of implementation.

Unfortunately, few, if any of the ideas are both high-value and easy to implement. Instead you end up in a discussion over whether to pursue high-value, hard-to-implement initiatives, or lower-value, easy-to-implement projects.

More often than not, the low-value, easy-to-deliver projects win out. The barriers to the big prizes just seem too big and too difficult -- especially at the end of a long and tiring workshop.

But pursuing the 'quick wins' is a mistake, for three reasons:

  1. Their impact is too small to register on any performance scale. This means that the project is never at the top of anyone's priorities and is never delivered.
  2. They consume more effort than you originally estimate. The lack of progress means that you have to spend more time managing your project and communicating with and influencing your reluctant stakeholders.
  3. They prevent you from getting on with more important projects. This is the biggest reason of all. As Apple boss, Steve Jobs, once said, "It's only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important."
So what should you do instead? The simple answer is to get on with the important stuff. It's big wins, not quick wins, that count.

Here are three practical steps you can take:

  1. Stop, reduce, slow down, delegate or defer quick win projects that have neither a significant financial or strategic impact. One of the first acts that Sir Stuart Rose took when he became CEO of M&S was to reduce the number of 'strategic' projects from over 30 to less than 10, so that the energy of the organisation could be sensibly focused.
  2. Refocus your time and effort onto high-value projects that are directly in line with your broader strategic objectives, even if they are harder to implement. As Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, once commented, "It's important to be stubborn on the vision and flexible on the details." By this he meant that Amazon's success came from relentlessly pursuing big strategic objectives and being willing to develop and test many different solutions before finding the best one.
  3. Break these projects down into bite-sized chunks, enabling you to create the focus, momentum and pace that is required to deliver success.
Share your feedback or more ways to get to your goals without the distraction of big wins.

(Photo: Supermac1961, CC2.0)

  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.