How to Pull the Plug on a Failed Innovation Project

“Any time you commission an innovative project, failing to achieve your commercial objectives is a real possibility,” the Harvard Business Review points out.

The more innovative the idea, the more it by definition rests on assumptions that may or may not pan out. The tools and techniques developed over the past decade around managing those assumptions, coupled with dramatic decreases in the cost of developing and testing ideas means you can learn much more efficiently than before, but that doesn’t change the fact that a good idea in theory might not be a good idea in reality. Customers rarely do what you expect them to. A promised benefit that worked in the lab might not work at any kind of commercial scale. A beautiful economic model in Excel might turn out to be an ugly one in reality.”

“Not every idea is destined for greatness. When it is clear an idea isn’t going to make the cut, perpetuating it can sap your organization’s innovation capacity and energy.”

Here are three ways to artfully move on:

1. “The data doesn’t lie. It is far easier to breakup with an idea if you’ve been clear from the beginning about what success looks like, and have brought rigor to the process of experimenting around key unknowns. You never know for sure when you experiment, but you always should have HOPE – a hypothesis, objective, prediction, and execution plan to measure and test the prediction.”

2. “Think of the other things we both could be doing instead. Opportunity costs are real. Executives should never look at an idea in isolation, because there will always be an argument for pushing on.”

3. “We had some great times, and I don’t regret them at all. Every time you innovate… two good things can happen. First, you can deliver some kind of commercial or operational benefit. Alternatively you can learn something that enables a future commercial or operational benefit.”