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Why CEOs Should Focus on Low-Probability Projects

The projects least likely to succeed are the ones that benefit most from executive leadership.
COLLABORATORS Daniel Shapero, Gopal Kapur
A prioritization matrix for CEOs

In the project hierarchy at your company, there are home runs, big bets, small wins, and junk. Most CEOs we know focus on the first two — those high-profile ventures with the greatest potential payoff. Seems like a time-allocation no-brainer, right?

Wrong, says Daniel Shapero, LinkedIn’s vice president of Talent Solutions.

“Rather than focusing on projects that are most important, leaders should focus on areas where their personal leadership skills can add the most value,” he argues in the post “How to Manage Projects: Double Down, Delegate, or Destroy” on LinkedIn.

And where, exactly, is that executive-skill sweet spot? Shapero’s answer may surprise you: Your time is best invested in projects with the lowest probability of success.

Although home runs and small wins can be safely delegated to star players with proven track records, only executive leadership can make a significant difference in big-bet and junk projects.

“[Big bets are] where I can add most value, so I double down and get personally involved,” Shapero writes. “My goal is to use influence and problem-solving skills to turn this project into a home run, and then I hand it off to a star on my team.”

Junk projects also require swift, dedicated energy from the top — but with an entirely different aim. “I do not ignore junk projects,” he says. “I get directly involved and destroy, so as to free up the organization’s resources for other projects.”



Killing a dud project is never straightforward or painless, especially when egos, politics, and promises are involved (which is always). To aid in the process, Gopal Kapur, founder of the Center for Project Management, has produced an excellent set of guidelines for evaluating a troubled project and determining when to resuscitate or end an initiative, with an emphasis on smart communication and lessons learned.

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