March 1, 2024

Small Business Advice

Evaluate existing projects before you launch new ones

Jerry Osteryoung | 2/5/2017

"Successful problem solving requires finding the right solution to the right problem. We fail more often because we solve the wrong problem than because we get the wrong solution to the right problem."

~ Russel Ackoff

Russel Ackoff, a renowned academician and management guru, said, "The only thing more difficult than starting something new is stopping something old!”

This statement is so profound as so many organizations add new products, services or processes without first assessing which of their existing products, services or processes they can eliminate.

Normally, you know you have an outmoded process when an employee asks why they do something, and the only answer you have is that it has always been done that way.

I think so many managers and business owners get trapped into focusing on doing new things. You frequently hear about all of the new projects they are working on, but very rarely do you hear about how they are evaluating existing projects.

This can cause major issues for a business. One manager was getting a whole bunch of new projects done, but her existing projects were faltering from a lack of attention. Many were not adding value anymore and just needed to be eliminated.

When this manager was able to see how unproductive some of these existing efforts were, it was clear that off-loading them would allow her to redirect resources into some new projects. After doing so, she felt like a more effective manager, and her unit became so much more profitable.

I think it is part of the human condition to concentrate on new things and ignore existing ones that “appear” to be working okay. It is just how our brains work.

For example, I was working with a company in the business of fabricating sheet metal. Management and ownership were entirely focused on developing a new product -- so much so that they had just let production of existing products go basically unmanaged. As a result, quality was deteriorating significantly, and costs were escalating.

When I asked management about this, their response was that they thought things would be okay since these projects had been successful in the past and should not need monitoring.

In this company's case, the right call was to discontinue working on developing the new product. There was no proven market for the new product, so their best move was to concentrate on their existing products lines.

For another example, a company had a profit sharing program that was not working at all. Rather than rewarding the employees who were demonstrating great work effort and accomplishment, it was rewarding those who were employed the longest but the least productive.

Top management was aware of this issue, but they were unwilling to dedicate the time it would take to develop a new plan that would work correctly. Their attention was focused on other things.

One way to avoid this problem is to commit to performing a thorough analysis of all your processes and operations either once a year or every other year. Your goal here is to identify those that are not performing well so they can be changed or eliminated. Nothing should be exempt from this type of scrutiny!

After going through this process, one firm discovered that one of the products they purchased and resold was significantly too expensive for their customers. This product had produced so much revenue for the firm in the past, it was hard for them to let it go, but once they did, it freed up so many other resources.

Now go out and evaluate your operation, looking for those processes and methods that are no longer working. Rework them or eliminate them altogether if they are obsolete.

You can do this!

Dr. Osteryoung has directly has assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is a bestseller on He can be reached by e-mail at

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