One of the hardest things for a leader to do is to terminate a project; even if it has been clear for quite a while that its potential is minimal. Two factors are typically at work; 1) the leader doesn’t want to kill the project because it may appear that he/she has failed; and 2) the people assigned to the project will aggressively pressure the leader to continue since they worry about what will happen to them! The result is that most speculative projects end up living far too long of a life before they either die a natural death or the leader gets up enough courage to admit that this one didn’t work out.
Until recently, Google was guilty of having a number of projects that looked relatively hopeless. About 18 months ago, when Google re-organized and a parent company called Alphabet was formed, things began to change.
Alphabet is made up of two components: 1) Google, which includes not only the search engine but also going services such as Gmail and YouTube; and 2) a new division called Other Bets that houses all the speculative projects, which are often referred to as Moonshots. Recently, Alphabet hired a seasoned CFO from Wall Street who quickly decided it was time for some of the struggling Moonshots to defend their very existence. Now the value system is that while Alphabet wants to protect innovation at the early stages of a project, with time there must emerge a path to profitability or serious questions should be raised in regard to whether the venture should continue to exist. This is a big shift.
Admirably, this has led to some projects being terminated.
1.) Drones – Alphabet recently acknowledged that it shut down the project called Titan which was focused on building solar powered drones.
2.) Satellites – The Terra Bella satellite imaging project is being sold off to a space venture firm called Planet Labs.
3.) Delivery – Alphabet’s drone delivery program called Project Wing is being set side. There are serious regulatory hurdles and the leader of the effort left the company. Also, a pilot program with Starbucks was terminated.
4.) Robotics – Alphabet has begun to dismantle its robotics division which carried the name Replicant. The conclusion was that it was far from commercial realization. A core component of this effort was an animal-like legged machine. Currently, Alphabet is seeking a buyer.
5.) Modular Smartphones – The plan was to release a cheap, customizable smartphone featuring swappable parts, such as screens and batteries. This modular mobile hardware program, known as Project Ara, was terminated after failing to move from prototype to production as well as its leader to Facebook.
In conclusion, hats off to Alphabet/Google! Strong leaders make crisp decisions to terminate projects that were once thought to be of high potential when facts emerge showing minimal promise.