Beware of the Low Hanging Fruit

One of the most significant challenges that comes with the launch of a new initiative is knowing whether or not it truly has long term potential.  

To make this assessment even harder, when most initiatives launch there's always some low hanging fruit that can give you the perception that the initiative is working.  Smart engineers or good business people can usually prioritize the quick wins and grit their way to some success in the first few days or weeks of a launch.  But what's hard to evaluate is what will happen once all of that low hanging fruit has fallen off the tree.  A couple ways to help address this:

  1. Ask each team member to create one perfect case study of success out of the initiative as fast as they can.  Rather than going out and getting 30 wins, ask them to get one win and dive into the detail.  Why did that win work?  What were the challenges in getting it there?  What might make this win different than others?  What might make it similar?   By diving into intense detail and building a case study on a winning opportunity, managers will be able to understand the strengths and challenges that they didn't know about at the beginning or can't see just by looking at results.  So often the true path to success lies in the detail.
  2. Keep a simple to read and easy to update log of initiatives; include learnings (what worked/didn't) and results against your goal.  Use this log to set a benchmark for future initiatives.  Over time, this log will help you get a good feel for when the initiative has turned the corner on the low hanging fruit and is picking up steam or fizzling out.

Low hanging fruit is a good thing.  It can help build momentum and excitement around a new initiative and is often a great way to pick up insights that help a team move faster or prioritize more effectively.  But it can be a trap that leads to over-investment.  The simple steps above have helped me avoid that trap in the past.