I’ve been reading Inside Drucker’s Brain, Jeffrey Krames’ book about the late management guru Peter Drucker. The book is not a biography, though it contains some interesting biographical material, but is primarily a summary of Drucker’s ideas.
One thing that stands out is how often Drucker used the word “abandon.” For example, Krames quotes Drucker as follows.
The first step in a growth policy is not to decide where and how to grow. It is to decide what to abandon. In order to grow, a business must have a systematic policy to get rid of the outgrown, the obsolete, the unproductive.
Later he quotes Drucker again saying
It cannot be said often enough that one should not postpone; one abandons.
Don’t tell me what you’re doing, tell me what you’ve stopped doing.
It can be a tremendous relief to abandon a project. Not just passively neglect it, but actively decide to abandon it. The practical result is the same — the project doesn’t get done — but deliberate abandonment eliminates guilt and frees up emotional energy. However, abandonment takes courage.
Organizational structure makes it hard for some businesses to ever abandon projects. If a project is killed, the person who kills it takes the heat. But if the project dies of natural causes, another person, someone further down the org chart, may take the blame instead. Under such circumstances, projects are not abandoned often.
If you’re convinced that you need to abandon projects, at least occasionally, how do you know what to abandon and when? Seth Godin wrote a good book on this topic, The Dip. The subtitle is “A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick).”
Update: See Johanna Rothman’s discussion Abandoning vs. Killing Projects.