Stay on Track With an Idea Embargo

So you’re about to launch. You’ve done a great job planning and executing this project. And you’re almost ready to unveil your baby to the world.

And this is when people start coming up with new ideas and suggestions. Often it’s a major decision maker such as your boss who thinks a new feature or two is needed. Do you rework everything? How do you consider everyone’s feedback and respectfully decline the advice? That all depends on many factors. In the end, you need to decide what’s the gain. And some of that advice comes from someone you can’t ignore.

What now? Do you rework everything? How do you consider everyone’s feedback and respectfully decline the advice? That all depends on many factors. In the end, you need to decide what’s the gain. If it’s a lousy idea, it’s easy to dismiss. But good ideas at the last minute are very tempting to implement. You have to decide whether they are worth the cost. Make a honest analysis of what the costs and benefits of a change will be. That last-minute idea could make your launch a success.

But even so, the last-minute ideas can derail the most well run project. It’s tough when someone ignores all your planning and work. Where were they when you planned this thing? Now that all the work is done, they want to tell you what you should have done. Implementing a last-minute idea or two could delay launch.

You know what I do? Enforce an idea embargo. While planning a project and creating a time line, I mark the day that no new ideas will be accepted. That’s right. After that day, keep your great ideas to yourself because we have work to do.

I’m not advocating restricting people from contributing to your work. Encourage people to contribute early. The embargo is simply the last step in a series of communications. Seek lots of input. Early.

First, you need to communicate your project schedule. Include dates for each step. That includes idea embargo and project deadline. The embargo cannot be a surprise to anyone. Everyone in your group needs to be aware of the time line.

Get everyone involved in a brainstorming session. Get their ideas now. But this isn’t the final idea harvest. You need to stay open to feedback.

Announce your progress as you complete parts of the project. Show off what you have done and solicit more feedback.

Ask for advice or bounce your ideas off individuals. Include as many perspectives as you can. Give people chances to contribute more ideas.

You need to foster an environment that lets people contribute. They need to feel they can add something beyond their daily tasks. All of this will be a waste if they stay silent because no one listens to them anyway.

At no point are you required to implement every idea suggested. You need to use your best judgment. And you need to communicate why some ideas won’t be included. There will be good ideas that aren’t right or economical for a particular project. The key is that you are using your judgment early in the process.

Even after you declare the embargo, don’t write your project plan in stone. I know what I just wrote. But you need to recognize that markets change, glitches arise and assumptions are wrong. Schedule testing moments when you question how things are going. You may need to adjust ideas and procedures. The key is to recognize change happens and try to plan for it.

Of course none of this will prevent the last-minute idea or change. Scott Belsky of Behance writes that there is a good reason for this:

“Some of the most productive leaders we have interviewed suggest that their greatest realizations often come at very inconvenient times – often when it is almost too late to change. The reason is obvious: brain power is concentrated and more able to grasp the tangible outcome of a project only in the final stages. While the team may want to discourage any last minute changes, you will also want to capitalize and capture these insights.”

Scott writes that you don’t want to discard good ideas simply because they came after a deadline. He advocates patience and feels that will lead to more meaningful engagement. Hey, I’m all for meaningful engagement. I’m just saying you need to start it earlier.

I’m going to stick with my idea embargo. Simply because it puts a lot of emphasis on collecting ideas and engagement very early in the process. That cannot hurt no matter what you do days before launch. By seriously including many views in your planning, you reduce the likelihood someone will have last-minute ideas. Those ideas are collected earlier.

When I figure out how to schedule unforeseen problems, I will let you know.

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Cubicle Curtis is the guy sitting at the next workstation. He's been in this office longer than anyone else, so he's a valuable resource of who does what and how to get things done. Before this job, he has worked just about every job between pizza delivery and accounting. Now, he's all about getting the job done and helping you figure out how to survive yours.


  1. Paul Letourneau on the 26th January

    Great article! Coming from a design and now into marketing and communications i swear I would have completed twice the amount of projects if I had stuck to this idea.


  2. khaled on the 26th January

    i really enjoy reading this thank you


  3. Rondal on the 26th January

    I second what Paul said. I have hit this roadblock a few times myself, much to my chagrin, resulting in creative exhaustion and extended frustration so these insights are much appreciated.

  4. Dave on the 27th January

    Be agile. An idea embargo is a terrible idea, it means that your customer wants something that you’ve failed to deliver. You need to get feedback early and often then you’ll never have this problem of an ‘idea’ in the late stages.

  5. George on the 28th January

    Idea Embargo is a bad idea and is either unnecessary or impossible, depending on your process.

    Certain personalities CANNOT stop generating ideas (guilty as charged) anymore than they can stop breathing.

    Others are focused on the details of completion above all else and are merely irritated by the ongoing flow of ideas (which they see as late changes or superfluous).

    The key to success is to TRANSFER OWNERSHIP from the first group in the ideation/definition stage to the second group in the development stage.

    Late ideas are then simply held for the next release or version. If the idea is REALLY good then it will clear the much higher bar established by the completion group. This process is automatic.

    • Joel Falconer on the 28th January

      This is effectively the same thing as implementing an idea embargo before a release and letting the people with ideas jot them down for next time. The article’s not about personal idea embargos, but about when to stop letting new ideas creep into the current revision of a project. There’s no real difference between the two perspectives as far as I can see.

  6. radj on the 29th January

    I agree. I think the idea embargo is a good thing.

    But I can relate this with Test Driven Development. At the start of the week, all needed stuff to do are thought of and written down and scheduled. Anything else thought up in the middle of the same week will have to be considered only for the next iteration for next week. We can follow the idea and scale it up to month-based phases of development, right?

    “Oops, you’re too late. But we’ll definitely consider that next time.”

  7. hesvinc on the 20th December

    Practice the truth, adhere to what you do, success is not far。

  8. Christ on the 23rd January

    It make sense however.I agree your point about this topic

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