Our deadline approached. As time ticked away, minor tweaks, small adjustments, and little changes continued to roll in from all over the organization. The only problem? None of the tweaks were minor, none of the adjustments were small, and none of the changes were little. We’d sent our “finished” product out for review to far too many people and much too close to launch. As we faced all the suggested edits, we realized that we’d made a mistake.

Running the Risk of Death by Committee

Against my advice, my client was seeking buy-in from coworkers and colleagues who hadn’t been privy to our months-long process. The marketing project we’d carefully researched, developed, tested, and honed was facing death by committee.

We understood the importance of collaboration. That’s why we gathered a small, talented, group of stakeholders to create the campaign. We spent hours in meetings brainstorming and working together to build something we were proud of.

We believed in the necessity of feedback. That’s why when we’d settled on a concept we took it to the folks we reported to for input. We wanted to make sure we were headed in the right direction and weren’t missing anything.

We reminded ourselves that flexibility is wise. That’s why we made changes based on the feedback we received — even when it meant rethinking our hard work and making big adjustments. We trusted the folks above us on the organization chart and knew we reported to them for a reason.

But we also made a massive mistake. Perhaps we were looking for validation, perhaps we underestimated how many opinions others would share, perhaps we doubted our abilities, but whatever the reason, we sent the project out for one more round of feedback from folks who probably didn’t need to have a say.

Trust Your Team and Lock it Down

When it comes to creative projects with agreed-upon deadlines, there is a point when you have to lock it down. You must stop soliciting advice and input from the peanut gallery. You must trust your work. And you must begin to execute. We’d failed to do those things, and now our deadline was closing in, and we were facing another round of edits that probably weren’t necessary.

Because we felt compelled to take time to make the second round of adjustments, we were robbing the art department and front-line folks of the time they needed to carry out the strategy. We were eating into their preparation time and possibly sabotaging all of the hard work we’d put in.

How to Avoid Death by Committee

  1. Get stakeholders input early: as complicated as collaboration can be, it is vital to success. No one person has all the answers or is capable of seeing a problem from every perspective. You cannot overstate the importance of input from a variety of stakeholders. Collaboration makes every project stronger.
  2. Set a soft deadline: never underestimate your ability to have missed something. Even though a project has taken months (or even years) to complete, there’s likely something you and your team missed. Set a soft deadline that allows for time to fix whatever that is.
  3. Get feedback from people with expertise: everyone has opinions. However, not every opinion is helpful in every situation. When seeking feedback, get it from folks with even more expertise than the folks who envisioned the campaign/product/project.
  4. Lock it down: After revision put a pause on the tweaks and adjustments. After the campaign or project has gone live and the public has given its feedback there will be plenty of time for adjustments. But, for now…
  5. Trust your team’s hard work: know that you spent time researching, brainstorming, and working hard to create the best campaign you could. Trust your expertise.
    Accept that people will always find things to complain about: count on folks within your organization playing Monday-morning quarterback. Human beings will always find a reason to complain. They will always find fault. They will always seize opportunities to nitpick. When they do, circle back and remind yourself of step five.
  6. Execute with care: Take the time to execute with as much precision and attention as you planned with. Give yourself the time and space to carry out the plan. If you’re still tweaking the plan hours before the deadline, you’ve missed your opportunity to deliver the best product you can. Planning is crucial, executing is too.

Sadly, in the end, we missed our deadline. We launched the campaign more than a week later than we’d originally hoped, and in my opinion, the final product wasn’t as strong as it had been before the second round of revisions. The campaign was a victim of death by committee.

As I look back on the project today, I can see where we went wrong quite clearly. We failed to set a soft deadline, we failed to lock down our strategy after our first round of revisions, and most importantly, we failed to trust our hard work. Though it ended up being a moderately-successful campaign, I can’t help but wonder what might have been.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash
Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

 

There's a fine line between getting feedback on a project and allowing your project to succumb to death by committee. How do you avoid an abundance of unhelpful input?

 

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