Published by Tony Quinlan on

I recently posted on the need for putting endings on organisational stories.  It’s prompted some interesting responses and I’d like to throw some more fuel on the fire to illuminate some elements of this.

One of the comments I’ve had was about projects that are an embarrassment to the organisation – ones that were closed because they didn’t work.

I don’t really believe that any project is wholly negative – there are always lessons to pull out, even if they are of the "We won’t ever make that mistake again" variety.
And they’re still important.
More important, however, are those projects that are started with great celebration, fireworks and furore and are closed some time later for good and practical reasons, but still not talked about – ending a project seems to be a tacit admission of failure.

An example I came across at a financial services company was of an internet-based financial service they launched – starting from scratch, they built the team, the product and profitable customers in a remarkably short space of time.  Huge success.  Massive.
And 18 months later, there was a quiet notice and lots of grapevine about the organisation closing this new service down quickly.

The inference everyone took was that it had been a disaster after all, something drastic had gone wrong.

Talking to the comms people at the organisation, I asked how it had been dealt with.  "Oh, everyone was moved internally, no-one lost their job.  All handled properly."  No, I insisted, how was it announced to the organisation?  "It wasn’t really."

So, along with the assumption of disaster, everyone associated with the "failure" was tarnished in their new jobs until they could demonstrate their strengths in the new environment.

Yet the truth was that the project had been a huge success – and would have continued to be were it not for the change in Basel II legislation that meant a far greater amount of financial capital was needed to meet new EU regulations, making the project too capital- and cost-intensive.  But of course, by hushing up the project closing, none of that was known.

Instead, they could have held an celebration and announcement of the end of the project as public as the start – highlighting the success of the project, the skills learned and maybe even the practical demonstration of behaviours and values crucial to the future success of the parent organisation.  And those moving on from the project would have become heroes to be emulated and listened to, not pariahs to be sidelined.