What’s so special about A Year?

Peter Drucker said “We greatly overestimate what we can do in one year. But we greatly underestimate what is possible for us in five years.”

Whether we’re setting personal or business goals, there seems to be something enticing about “this time next year”. But we need to remember that achievable milestones are more important than round numbers.

Since this is the birthday edition of my CEO Newsletter, I’ve delved into my archives and pulled out some quotes on client lessons learned on the topic of “what we did (or did not do) in a year”.

Lesson #1—You get what you measure

“When we set out this project, I was asked for the definition of success. My gut was to say that, by this time next year, the system had to be in, and everyone should be happy that it helps them do their job better than today.

When the project plan came out, that had been interpreted as a one year deadline. We went live 14 months later—but had to cut corners to make that goal. As a result, the early months after Go Live were very rocky. I’d say we reached our goals in 18 months.

With hindsight, I should have insisted on objective measures of success, let the team come back with a timeline and scope to meet those measures, and discouraged over optimism. Reality trumps optimism in these matters.”

Lesson #2—Plan beyond the project

“The systems project was complex, and we invested a ton of time in a detailed technical plan—requirements, design, coding, and testing.

All important work within the project.

But we completely overlooked the impact on the larger organization and our customers. We did not plan for change management.

The system implementation came in on time, but it was 9 more months before we ironed out user problems, and had a better customer experience. I believe we could have completed six months earlier if we had looked outside the project when we were planning.”

Lesson #3—Don't shortchange on resources

“We would have liked to have seconded our best people to the project from day 1, but we didn’t have the people to do this.

Our error was simple—we overlooked the fact that the main contributors had a day job, and assumed they could get the extra curricular project work done regardless. With 20/20 hindsight—I’d slow the project down or, if the ROI justified, bring in temps to backfill so my best people could get the work done faster.”

Lesson #4—Deliver early and often

“I got into a passionate debate with the CEO on the topic of big bang versus phased implementation. I was able to convince her to go phased.

Instead of aiming to do everything over a 12-month timeline, we implemented the more urgent work at the 6-month and 10-month milestones, and deferred the less important stuff.

It turned out that the less important stuff was not needed. So we were able to reduce scope based on information that we could only have received with a staged implementation. Sounds agile to me.”


What matters is that you’re very clear on your goals, do the minimum work required to meet those goals, and don’t pit the project against your operational needs in a battle for resources.

There’s nothing special about one year. Unless you’re talking anniversaries.


Take a look at a planned change that took longer than you had expected:

  1. With hindsight, are you happy with the plan that was developed at the outset of the work?

  2. Did you take the steps required to minimize the project start up time

  3. Were priorities adjusted to accommodate the team’s pre-existing workload

  4. Was due attention paid to change management to help the impacted stakeholders through the adjustment?

  5. Did you meet your goals? How do you know?

Just for fun, ask these same questions of an initiative that is in progress. Find any useful insights?


... and if you missed these related articles, go back and take another look:

Don’t fail at the first hurdle

Minimal Effort Means Avoiding Work

Let’s be clear