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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

7 clear signs you should walk away from a project

Knowing when to stop a project that isn’t going anywhere is an important skill every leader should develop.

7 clear signs you should walk away from a project
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]

Brainstorming sessions often beget a wealth of ideas for a team to pursue. In the moments, most or all ideas seem like winners, but once work starts, it can become clear that certain ventures may not be the best use of time and resources.

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Sometimes, it can be difficult for a leader to determine when it’s time to let go of an initiative, especially if it’s one they are personally passionate about. To help you make this difficult decision, a panel of Fast Company Executive Board members each offer one clear sign or red flag that a leader and team should walk away from a project, regardless of how much has been invested in it.

1. YOU CAN’T ARTICULATE THE PROBLEM YOU’RE TRYING TO SOLVE.

Here are three signs you should walk away from a project: you can’t clearly articulate what problem you’re trying to solve, you haven’t clearly defined what is out of scope—in addition to what is in, and leadership or key stakeholders are undermining your ability to be successful. – Sara Wasserteil, Cara Collective

2. YOUR SOLUTION IS NOT MEETING YOUR TARGET CUSTOMERS’ NEEDS.

If your target customer does not have their needs met when validating your hypothesis, it’s time to walk. In other words, your solution is not solving a big enough problem. If you are failing to solve a problem that is so painful that people need to pay you to solve it, then you are wasting your time. The common trait all successful businesses have is they find solutions to people’s problems. – Michael Fenech, EndGame Network PTY LTD

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3. YOUR SALES PITCH IS NOT ANSWERING IMPORTANT QUESTIONS.

If when you do a sales pitch as an agency, prospects consistently redirect or ask you for things that are not in your presentation, it means you are trying to force something down their throats that they don’t want or don’t understand. Go back to the drawing board and figure out what you’re doing wrong. A good way to start is with buyer persona research. – Scott Baradell, Idea Grove

4. YOU’RE GETTING NEGATIVE FEEDBACK AND REVIEWS.

Negative customer feedback and reviews are a sign that it’s time to walk away or at least to make improvements on your current project before reintroducing it to the market. You should immediately halt the project before losing your current customers. – Kelley Higney, Bug Bite Thing

5. YOU’RE NOT MEETING INITIAL SUCCESS MEASUREMENTS.

Walk away when your initial success measurements are not met. Every new project needs solid KPIs that are formulated from research and analyzing performance. If you see that it is underperforming at a drastically low rate based on your benchmarks, move on. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

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6. YOU’RE COMPROMISING QUALITY.

If the quality of the final deliverable can be comprised due to insufficient human or financial resources, or negative competitive dynamics, stop the project before it can tarnish your company’s reputation. Learn from the experience and share that wisdom across all departments so everyone understands how to do the same in the future. This is a lesson in courage, for your people and your company. – Andreea Vanacker, SPARKX5

7. INVESTOR PROPOSITIONS ARE DISADVANTAGEOUS.

It is said that one of the hallmarks of a good leader is knowing when to walk away from a project. Some signs to consider are: investors offer you a proposition that is very disadvantageous to you, or when you face stiff competition or even customer resistance. When these signs come together, you need to walk away from your project fast. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

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