At one point most of us had that one piece of exercise equipment that was supposed to justify binge-watching Netflix. Or that pair of favorite jeans that survived one too many spring cleanings. At the time, it always seemed like a great idea but somehow the treadmill became a towel rack and jeans just continue to clutter the closet. Yet we keep holding on to those things hoping that “tomorrow” will change. Just like our unused treadmills, organizations collect projects. They never get worked on and they never go away. We all have seen the spreadsheets with those few rows at the end that just get copied over and over. Or the whiteboards with line items that never get erased. Even if no one is actively making progress on the “bottom of the list” projects, organizations keep carrying them on status reports and updates.

It was such a great idea at the time. 

Companies invest a great deal in developing cultures that attract and retain top talent. Collaboration and teamwork are usually part of the successful recipe and when done right, really do yield exceptional results. However, at times collaboration is misunderstood for agreeing with everyone’s ideas. Which at best adds just extra tasks but also might result in extra projects. Once THE IDEA makes the list and is added to the status updates, it is hard to remove it. Teams don’t want to offend the idea originator or simply don’t want to admit that it’s no longer a good idea. We should encourage a culture where asking questions is viewed as a sign of carrying and making sure that everyone is making effort toward common goals. Strategy execution happens when everyone is aligned and knows exactly how each task supports that strategy.

Executive pet project.

Just like agreeing with your team members might result in busy work, blindly agreeing with your leadership team will definitely result in even more work. Developing a culture of trust is one thing, adding checks and balances to your processes is another. But most of all, developing leaders that listen will prevent some of those unnecessary side projects from happening. After all, employees are on the front lines and operationally probably know much better what works, what customers are saying and what are the weak points. Always listen first, then add a strategic outlook and it will refocus the stale project list really fast without having to confront your peers.

We are busy – look at all the projects that we have!

Having to justify your team’s hard work by having long project lists is very unfortunate and indicative of a lack of trust. In our primal minds, long list equals fewer questions; quantity over quality looks “better” on the status report. In effect, we are busy making sure we have lots of line items instead of doing JUST things that support organizational goals. A solution is to add more visibility and transparency to project work. It can be challenging and will make the teams nervous.  Once the organization gets comfortable with this practice,  it provides the necessary assurance that the teams are strategically aligned and eliminates the need for made up project lists.


Whatever the reason for keeping alive those fake projects is, they always create clutter and waste. Teams keep providing unnecessary updates to those projects which especially adds to confusion during the planning process. Such projects also demotivate employees as there are always those few items on the list that nobody accomplishes… So stop looking “busy”, step back, be honest: those jeans are just not your style anymore – get rid of the clutter and focus on what’s important now!





The Lingering Projects