A key part of the service you provide as a consultant is helping the client prioritize his or her efforts. For example, this skill comes into play when you make recommendations based on an IT assessment for a client. How do you develop a recommendation that sets the appropriate project priorities in a sequence that can be accomplished to best help the company achieve its goals?

I’ve found success with a priority-setting process that uses the IT Project Hierarchy. By bringing together the information gathered in the IT Project Hierarchy pyramid and knowledge of the client’s needs, resources, and level of flexibility, you can present a set of recommendations that will be feasible and position the company to realize its goals.

Start with an effective IT assessment

Several of my past articles have discussed the objectives and mechanics of conducting an effective IT assessment. And you can use the IT Due Diligence Report template to guide you through developing and presenting your findings.

The IT Project Hierarchy
In previous articles, I’ve discussed the IT Project Hierarchy as a way to see where a client’s IT initiatives fall within the organization (see Figure A).

Figure A
IT Project Hierarchy

Odds are that your IT assessment will identify several projects in each layer of the IT Project Hierarchy pyramid. Once you’ve determined which level each project inhabits, then you have the task of sorting through the maze and making objective recommendations for each project. I refer to this model so you can develop a method of establishing the appropriate IT project priorities for a company.

Many paths will lead to positive results
In many situations, you may have an infinite number of approaches to reach your goal. Project success depends both on your clients’ willingness to take risk and whether an organization is positioned to undertake them.

The key is to establish a priority plan that is likely to be accomplished. Therefore, your first priorities should include projects that, once completed, will position the company to achieve its IT goals.

Obviously, in the real world, a company has to address multiple issues simultaneously. A typical IT assessment will identify issues that require focused effort and must be balanced in any or all of the following areas:

  • Management
  • Staffing
  • IT organizational focus
  • Processes and procedures
  • Infrastructure
  • Client satisfaction
  • Training
  • Business applications
  • Change management
  • Cost of IT
  • Client satisfaction
  • Leverage by improving department productivity
  • Company profitability

An IT assessment may identify 20 or 30 issues that must be addressed to achieve the level of success the company wants. Each issue can potentially be looked at as a project.

Develop your priority recommendation
With the IT Project Hierarchy in the back of your mind, you can use an approach that helps you quantify your issues and place relative importance on each to arrive at an appropriate priority to include in your recommendation to the company.

Figure B
Issues priority matrix

Follow these steps using the issues priority matrix (see Figure B) to develop your project priority recommendation:

Step 1

  1. List all Issues/Projects that need to be addressed from your IT assessment.
  2. Estimate the cost (Est. $$), time to complete (Est. Time), and the ROI or benefits (Benefits) that exist with each initiative and fill in the appropriate cells.
  3. List any project initiative that is a prerequisite (Prereq.) and that must be completed before starting the project.
  4. List dependencies that exist for each project. For example, recruiting a new manager requires budget dollars and hiring approval before addressing such an issue.

At this point, all cells are filled in, except the cells in the Priority column.

Step 2
Go through each Issue/Project and establish a Priority level (1 through 3, with 1 being the highest priority). I generally use the following assignment reasoning:

  1. Critical
  2. Important need but not critical
  3. Needed

When this is completed, you’ll have several Priority 1-, 2-, and 3-level items. (You can also assign your own ranking system.)

Consider these issues when assigning priority
When placing priority on any Issue/Project, remember:

  • Cash-flow implications to the company.
  • Staff expertise.
  • Staff capacity.
  • Client satisfaction needs (both internal and external clients).
  • Infrastructure stability and/or capacity to support the project.
  • Business applications stability and/or capacity to support the project.
  • Immediate vs. long-term benefit.

Step 3
After you know which items are critical and have the very highest priority, you should be able to work through each of them and give them a second priority number within that level. Several projects may begin at the same time, especially if they’re in different areas of the IT organization. Once you finish prioritizing the sequence of level 1 projects, do the same for level 2 and level 3.

Step 4
Draw a picture so you can present your recommendations effectively. Using an illustration in your presentation helps you share your thoughts on complexity, dependencies, prerequisites, and timing. You can even show the estimated costs from the issues priority matrix, if you choose. All of these elements are crucial for a senior management team to understand. It helps you see the whole picture, as well.

An example of a recommendation illustration pulled from my book,  IT Management-101, is shown in Figure C. In this simple example, I identified 10 issues in developing a client support desk for a small company.

You’ll note that I identified four priority levels. The graphic also provides a summary timeline and shows that several projects are worked on at the same time. A picture like this will help your audience gain a quick perspective that is much easier to visualize than looking at tables and lists.

Figure C
Sample client support desk 90-day plan

Bottom line
The approach I’ve discussed in this article can be used for IT assessment and recommendation projects on virtually any level. Using tools will help you quantify your findings and reach an objective position on your recommendations.

Remember, you have flexibility in any approach, so take the time to gain a feel for the client’s personality and what will work best for the company environment you are working with.

Mike Sisco is president of MDE Enterprises, an IT management training and consulting company based in Atlanta. Check out MDE’s IT Manager Development Series for more of Mike’s advice.