When should you quit a project?

By Younas Chaudhary

Have you ever thought of quitting a project, only to find yourself holding onto it because you feel tied to its outcome? Like you, I have been stuck, unwilling to let go even though I wanted to!

It is hard to quit projects that we really love. Though there is some variance among individuals, this is a classic human trait. I myself am a hoarder of land – I still own properties that I purchased way back in 1982, thinking that I might one day launch new projects, even though they have not yielded any value for a long time.

For example, in 1981 I purchased some oil assets from a major company in Texas, and the project was initially producing 10 to 15 barrels of oil per day. I eventually wanted to get rid of the assets, but there were multiple stacked productive zones in that property, and each time I would almost decide to quit the project and sell it, I would imagine it yielding well over 100 barrels per day! As oil prices have fluctuated, I have found this project hard to quit, because every time I try to do so the potential monetary benefit beckons me to keep it for a longer period.

The point is this: Perseverance sometimes pays off in holding onto projects; but after a point, we should use common sense and analyze the cost/benefit ratio of what we’re doing.

Here is an example of a project where I wrongly calculated the cost/benefit ratio. On August 21, 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and decimated my dream house. We lost expensive furniture, paintings, antiques, and – worst of all – several photo albums and other items containing our family’s precious memories through the decades. My family repeatedly told me not to invest in restoring the house. However, I was so emotionally attached to the restoration project that I wanted to return the house to its former glory, and I invested a lot of money in rebuilding it. Long story short, by the time the house was restored, my children and I had already left for newer homes in the heart of Houston! The beautifully restored house, a project of my dreams which I refused to quit, has now sat empty for years!

In business, we should be calculating when holding onto projects that do not yield much. If you are in a dilemma about this issue, seek advice from independent experts and family members, and quit projects that are not yielding anything, before you waste additional time, effort, money, and resources.

Learn to be resilient, and draw and stick to a clear line on when to quit a project. And once you do it, do not look back.

Along the same lines, try to cross-train your team in taking on different projects so that they do not get stuck on futile ones. I have often found that giving employees opportunities to quit loss-making projects, and cross-training them to multi-task and shift their talents to different projects, gives them an opportunity to grow.

However, on the flip side, a common phenomenon that I have seen lately is the “fail fast” method in projects, mostly advocated by start-up founders and innovation gurus. While I am not against “failing fast” if something does not work, what troubles me is the lost learning opportunities that come with this approach. I often find that people in this arena quit as soon as they smell failure and forget to learn why. Instead, they jump to the next project, hoping for success and calling it an iterative process. These “fail fast” entrepreneurs would do well to take the time to thoroughly analyze the reasons for their failures, as it will teach them to pause before hastily failing again and again!

I am a believer in pursuing projects with attainable and calculated goals. However, you need to quit when you realize that it is not getting you anywhere!

Here are a few tips on deciding when to quit a project:

  1. Shift in priorities: Priorities change due to market demands, and we may have to shelve projects that will not give us benefits in a new market scenario.

2. Repetition: Repetition yields the same result, so it is always better to quit rather than repeat your mistakes and suffer the same failures.

3. Results do not justify the cost: When a project’s monetary benefits do not justify the costs, quit at the earliest opportunity.

4. The “sunk cost” fallacy: The fact that we have already invested a lot of money into the project (sunk costs) should not prevent us from pulling the plug if an accurate cost/benefit analysis indicates that we should do so.

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You can read more by purchasing my best-selling memoir “From Dirt Roads to Black Gold.” Note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of this book will help people in need through my foundation, the YBC Foundation.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.