Leadership

How to prioritize your organization's projects

Here are some tips for how to successfully prioritize your organization's projects with management. I also include a sample PowerPoint presentation you can use to communicate your concepts.

Here are some tips for how to successfully prioritize your organization's projects with management. I also include a sample PowerPoint presentation you can use to communicate your concepts.

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You have all your projects in a central repository and have estimated the cost, the benefit, the resource requirements, the time frame for delivery, etc.

Now comes the fun part: Sitting down with management to prioritize projects. This is an active process. New projects and opportunities occur regularly and priorities need to be revisited regularly. What is very important today could be less important than a new opportunity tomorrow. Project funds get shifted around, projects get killed, resources get reallocated, etc.

The approach that made the most sense logically for me (but has not worked great in practice...yet) is to have company directors and vice presidents collaborate on the priority lists. These are typically the main stake holders for the projects and it is helpful for this group to understand what projects are being proposed and where their project(s) fit in. They scour the business cases for feasibility and ask all the right questions. This way, the bulk of the work is done for the next group, the executive team.

The idea is to have all the business cases and first stab prioritization basically squared away so the executive team can just make the decisions and IT can ramp up the project engine quickly. The problem I ran into was lack of participation of the initial management review. Because of this, the executive meetings took forever to get approvals for projects. All the questions that were supposed to be asked and answered in the previous step didn't happen. The accountability for the entire scrubbing process fell to the PMO team and that is NOT a situation you want. There are a couple of root causes that I have uncovered, however. One could be that the executive team did not have faith in the VP and Director level to ask the right questions. The second, which is more likely, is the executive team did not see that accountability for project prioritization to be at the VP or director level.

Regardless, the goal of the PMO meetings is to get to yes or no decisions quickly so the company can start realizing the business benefits of the project. The decisions at the executive steering committee level would be:

  1. This project makes sense, we have the budget, and we have the resources. This project will allow us to further the goals of the company strategy. APPROVED.
  2. This project has possibilities. Strategic alignment is there. The business benefit is not as high as others, but we have the budget. APPROVED.
  3. This project has possibilities. Strategic alignment is there. The business benefit is not as high as others. We do NOT have budget or resources. DENIED.
  4. This project can have a pretty large impact on our business. Strategic alignment is there. We have the budget, but we do NOT have the resources to execute the project. APPROVED for outsourcing project execution or DENIED
  5. This project is very important. It will further our strategy further and faster than any project we have going on, but we don't have the budget or the resources. What do we have to kill, delay or defer to make this project happen? APPROVED

(Here's a sample PowerPoint presentation that may help you communicate these concepts and clarify roles and responsibilities.) That's it. The VP/director tier will make sure that nothing but aligned projects find their way to the executive steering committee. If not, then the process needs to be refined. The project spreadsheet will aid you in figuring out what projects in the portfolio can be moved around to accommodate changes. Flexibility, speed of decision making, strategic alignment objectives achieved.

Once the decisions are made, executive sponsors are assigned to a project. For currently running projects, it is the executive sponsor that provides the status update. I do have to say that in all my years of doing this, I have not been able to get the executive sponsor to provide the status update. It is usually done by the PMO director or you, the IT leader. But it sure would be nice to have an executive demonstrate their accountability to a project like that wouldn't it?

4 comments
mcjaaq
mcjaaq

"Prioritizing : To arrange or deal with in order of importance." It's not just about deciding green or red light to a project from the business point of view =)

steve_govedich
steve_govedich

Great article and we must continue to push our organizations to understand the importance of project priortization. As Jay points out, very few follow a process and the results usually mean lost opportunities for better investments, typically not measured though...Its a balance between politics & accountability. Wouldn't it be nice to frame priorities up in the context of "if it were your money, would you be doing it..."

pmaina2000
pmaina2000

Good article. Here's my take.. Most executive prefer pre-digested information. Therefore its better to present them with options and ask for simple "yes/no" rather than give them something to "digest" themselves. For prioritizing projects, you could present a bar chart showing the NPV of each project. This visually compelling approach will most likely get the Senior Execs to zoom in to "interesting" projects. Sending status updates is not the Executive Sponsors role - it's the Project/Program MNanager's role. If you want the sponsor to release a status update, then consider an indirect approach like asking the Sponsor to issue a "Press release" by the about the project or to "address the nation" at a milestone celebration, when some major milestone is achieved (e.g. contract award). This sends the ownership message - fulfilling your objective.

kdridder
kdridder

Each project may suppose they have the resources to execute. Only when you bring them together in your portfolio, you'll discover conflicting needs.

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