Death by 1000 Yeses

It feels so good to say “yes” to business projects. The requester is grateful. You are excited to start a new project. This one is going to make us a ton of money! Not like all those unfinished or failed projects in the past. Yes!

It’s like eating ice cream, taking drugs, or buying $400 shoes on your credit card. Of course it feels great; you are enjoying the initial rush and you haven’t paid the price yet. But just like those other delicious indulgences, every time you say yes you slow down a little. Say it too much in your personal life and you end up fat, stupid, and bankrupt. Say it too much at work and you spend all your time on projects that serve other people while your own work becomes mediocre or isn’t done at all.

The projects I’m thinking of mostly come from marketing and business development people, both inside and outside our company. In my experience, business executives like to look busy. My theory is that they feel guilty that other people are producing tangible products and services. What do they produce? Projects! So, they start lots of projects: complicated sales, affiliate programs, customer loyalty programs, bundles with other companies, and special versions of products. The problem is that these projects require work from other people in the organization.

In many organizations, business people are rewarded for starting projects. Then the implementation of the project is dumped onto other people and the executive goes off in search of the next great idea. The most deadly kind of project is one that is permanent because it is a drag on your team forever. An affiliate program sounds good but it has ongoing reporting duties and hand holding. A promotional version of software has to be fixed and supported as long as it exists. Hello distractions and goodbye simplicity! Each project makes your organization a little fatter, dumber, and poorer.

As with most dysfunctional situations, it’s the fault of the boss. If the boss rewards initiating projects then you are doomed. A smart boss only rewards finished and well executed projects. The rewards go 90% to the people who implemented the project and 10% to the person who came up with the idea. That encourages people to begin fewer projects and to do most of the actual work themselves. “Yes” becomes a special treat that you save up for and savor when you can afford it.

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About the Author:

Jeff Butterworth is the founder of Alien Skin Software. He used to create the products, but now he does marketing and gets coffee for the programmers.


  1. Kenneth Trivette August 30, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Great post Jeff. I am retired now, but I wish I had this insight when I was a practicing architect… Now I’m sitting here trying to think if I can apply this to my personal relationships 🙂

  2. Susan Easley September 19, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Truer words ne’er passed fairer fingers.

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