Quick wins, the reasoning goes, allow a project team to deliver some early incremental benefits, establishing momentum and setting the stage for success with more complex changes down the road. On the surface, this approach sounds reasonable. In reality, it falls flat for two important reasons.
First, many people respond negatively to incremental change. I’ve seen managers bicker for weeks over things like small changes in the size of their offices, how they report expenses, and policies about company-sponsored subscriptions. When the stakes are low, some people cling to entrenched positions until forced to change. That makes it very difficult to implement small changes.
Second, starting small is often an invitation to push issues that really matter to the back burner. It’s always easy to find reasons for postponing large-scale change–the timing isn’t right, internal politics aren’t favorable, or too many other things are going on. Once you accept such rationales for delays, you can end up bogged down indefinitely on small-scale changes.
The inevitable result of pursuing incremental change is that external events will eventually force an organization to undertake the large-scale change that it put off. But, by then, the organization will have lost the luxury of time, good planning, and proper execution for the change program it really needs. Too often, the results are disastrous.
For example, years before the company’s bankruptcy, General Motors executives knew exactly what they needed to do to save the business. They failed to make the hard choices before the market forced them to, and investors paid the price.
If you have a choice, go big with the changes you know are essential. Don’t ignore the “low hanging fruit” entirely, but don’t make those changes the focus of your project.