If all babies are cute, why there be so many ugly people in the world. - Sir Charles of Barkley
Note: When I use the term 'ugly baby' I am using it metaphorically. I'm referring to projects where the costs are relatively high and the potential rewards are relatively low. These costs/rewards can be intangible as well. Also, you may substitute program, product, policies, etc. for "project".
Recently a friend of mine on a knowledge sharing team had an initiative to try a certain software platform for collaboration and develop a quick user guide to help others start using it. This experiment was one she chose herself and at first she was energetic and determined. But as the weeks went by her enthusiasm waned and no progress was made. Wanting to help I took a look at the platform myself and it was soon apparent, the baby was terribly ugly. This assignment would be more work than we thought and without a lot to gain from it. At our next meeting we agreed to scrap the idea. She felt that a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
1) Start early - because the baby is not getting any prettier: If things don't look good early on, don't hold out for hope that it will "all work out in the end." Be brutally honest and get rid of it. Otherwise you'll regret it later.
TIP - Call for a critical look at things at the began rather than getting everyone together for a review at the end. Seth Godin calls this "thrashing" and it belongs early on vice at the end of a project.
2) Be objective - your babies aren't better than anybody else's: Sure you conceived it and nutured it to health. You protected it from a cruel world and want to see it thrive. But that emotional attachment you've grown to this lifeless idea is blinding you to reality. Be willing to let go if deep down you know it to be true.
TIP - Having meaningful relationships with others to the level that they're comfortable telling you your baby is ugly is golden. If they do so, don't attack them - thank them.
3) Don't worship outliers - just because so-n-so succeeded against all odds doesn't make it right to ignore ugliness: Everyone wants to be the next Facebook or a similar success story, but you don't hear about the thousands of identical cases that went down in flames. Luck is a huge contributor to success in business and other areas of life. Don't be a fool, and bet that your baby will beat the odds and be a success. Remember, that's how casinos get rich, by suckers thinking that probability doesn't apply to them.
TIP - Again this is where outside advice can be invaluable. Without the emotional attachment, they can provide you with good feedback on your real chances of success.
4) Admit that it just might be bad timing - don't throw the baby out with the bathwater: So the baby's ugly now, but maybe it's a late bloomer? Try setting this project aside for the time being. This can ease to blow of calling someone's baby ugly.
TIP - When you do this make sure you document why it wasn't favorable to try it out now. That way if you consider bringing this baby out again you can ask yourself, "What has changed that makes this project more viable now than before?"
Have you had run-ins with ugly babies before? Share your war stories and advice in the comments below.