Project Management

The 'Hard-Stop' Method Can Help You Save Time and Money on Testing New Ideas

The 'Hard-Stop' Method Can Help You Save Time and Money on Testing New Ideas
Image credit: JD Hancock | Flickr
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The two most critical resources any entrepreneur manages are time and money. Both are very hard to come by, easy to spend and extremely hard to replace.

Making mistakes and failure are inevitable when trying to build a company or work on a new product or service model. Actually failing at anything the first few attempts doesn’t really hurt the company’s chances of success. If anything, it makes them stronger and even more competitive. The most painful part of any failure is its cost -- how much time and money was spent down that path before realizing it was the wrong direction.

Related: Keeping Clients Happy: How to Ensure a Project Doesn't Go Over Budget

That’s why entrepreneurs need to apply the hard-stop technique used in agile project management to oversee a company's budget and product-development schedules. The methods described here set the right tone and are a necessary and effective tool in helping entrepreneurs constantly evaluate the investments they make to keep what works and efficiently terminate what doesn't work.

A primer on agile project management

With agile project management, the time to deliver the result is fixed. This is called a sprint. A sprint usually lasts anywhere from four to six weeks, where the shorter the time, the better.

The team that works on agile delivery agrees, in writing , from the start on a set of deliverables that they want to accomplish by the end of the sprint. The team cuts deliverables and features to reduce the scope as much as necessary as the sprint nears its end.

With agile project management, the key is that what is delivered changes but the time limit is always fixed. This time limit is referred to as the "hard stop."

Agile business management

Entrepreneurs and smaller companies can apply the agile technique to managing any project or business initiative. Business leaders must insist on fixed-time delivery schedules for clearly defined objectives.

This type of time constraint focuses the team's energy and priorities. They know that they have to deliver something by the end date and there are no extensions.

Related: 5 Key Reasons Projects Fail

Planning future sprints and the scope of work are iterative and progressive but the nature of the management system, with its fixed time and variable scope, remains the same.

The stop

At the end of each sprint, entire teams or individual team members who delivered very little or nothing from the original scope that was agreed to should be carefully questioned. The leader should be firm with any initiative or team that missed its own deliverables.

Any team member or supplier that is not able to work with hard stops should be removed from the assignment. Any project or objective that missed the defined objectives has to be carefully assessed before the same resources are tasked to continue on the same path.

Teams or individuals that missed their marks may not be a fit for the rapid pace and delivery demands of an agile team. It is harder to work with hard stops and a lot of people will not be comfortable with the constant deadline pressure. This is a highly efficient and cost-effective way of innovating, discovering and keeping what works, and eliminating those team members and projects that don’t.

Some of the terminated initiatives may have sounded amazing at the start, and some of the teams or individuals who did not perform may be highly capable, liked and respected. However, these do not change the reality that mutually agreed to, short-term and clearly-defined objectives were not met. Giving more time to the same team working on the same (or additional) objectives is a recipe for more costly failures.

The hard-stop technique will help reduce the pain of failure. Fail faster and cheaper so there is more time and money to spend on the winners.

Related: Sometimes, Keeping the Project Moving Requires You to Gently Tell Clients 'No'