How quick wins can sometimes be misleading

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Summary :most of the projects aiming at changing the way people work or implementing new tools start with seeking quick wins, evidences that the promise can be delivered on a small scale with a limited financial risk. Even if it’s a logical and wise approach, one should prevent from paying too much attention to quick wins or lack of. The specific context of experimentation makes it hard to extrapolate on a wider scale when the project will not be over-monitored and participant under the spotlight anymore. Having goals related to understanding novelty rather than delivering the promise can be more rewarding and less misleading.


That’s the mandatory steps in any serious projects : quick wins. In other words, quickly get tangible results, even modest, that prove that the choice is right, the promise deliverable and that’s worth scaling up. Quick wins are sought in the very first times of deployment but also in pilots to decide whether going further or stopping.

At first sight that’s a wise and necessary step : why investing in a large project without being sure that expectations can be met ? But it’s not trap free.

First because quick wins are often been sought on a small scale project, what is not always the right context while a critical mass is needed. To fix the problem, organizations are choosing the “right” people to participate. What causes two problems. The first is that is the “right” people are chosen, it brings a bias because there is no evidence that average employees will be as easy. The second is that, most of times, organizations fail at chosing the right people and choose “those who should” and “those we’d like to…” instead of “those who’d like to participate”.

Second because quick wins often have to be obtained with “current means”, without any change management or any kind of effort. What leads to grotesque situations. “We know that change management matters in such projects but we won’t do change management until quick wins are found”. No comment…

Then comes the context. People know they are watched, that attention is on them and they are expected to be successful. Guess what ? If the purpose is clear, people closely “managed” and supported, the quick wins will come very fast. Very similar to the Hawthorne effect.

Let me add that nothing is easier than coaching participant so closely that perfect story happens by miracle. Facilitating success is a good for exemplarity (other people think things really happened…) but no one learns from it and it does not prove anything. And it does not scale.

All these points are evidences that

– the lack of quick win does not mean the idea was bad.

– the existence of quick wins only shows that things were possible in a given context, with given people but in no way that it may work on the company scale.

So, should be get rid of “quick wins” ? Not at all because some promises need assessment, some things experimentation before a global roll out. On the other hand making it the only point to base a go/no go decision on is dangerous. It may be better to focus on learning and draw all the conclusions (while being aware of the special context in which the experimentation took place). Objectives in terms of understanding a poorly known field may be more relevant than objectives in terms of demonstrating something in a too specific context.


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Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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