Prioritizing Business Investments

13 March

Something I hear often from people I work with is: ‘We’re getting conflicting messages about the relative importance of some of our projects compared to others. What was once a priority one project seems to have slipped to the back burner but we don’t know why?’

Prioritizing of projects is no easy task. Management seems to want everything yesterday and everything is a priority one. As a project manager we need to work closely with stakeholders and help them prioritize their projects. Our job is to make sure that the right solution is delivered on time so the organization can reap the benefits as soon as possible. This obviously requires the project be highly organized and constantly scrutinized to ensure timely delivery and relevance to strategic goals.

The challenge is when your stakeholders insist that every one of their projects is equally important, absolutely critical and simply can not be cut or changed. Many stakeholders will ask for the world, a habit that can be particularly disconcerting when multiple stakeholders compete over projects that are mutually exclusive or can’t remotely be delivered without missed deadlines. Your job as a project manager is to help everyone understand that there’s a natural priority to the projects, even theirs and to help them understand what must come first and why.

The key to effective prioritization is to keep the approach simple and easy to understand by all managers across the organization. There are two distinct parts to managing prioritization. One is to establish a prioritization model that all key leaders buy in to. The second is to ensure that projects are released to project managers and teams according to priorities, resolving resource conflicts and improving project flow throughout the organization.

A prerequisite for a prioritization process is that a evaluation and selection process is in place to ensure that the potential project being evaluated has a credible approach that is aligned with the organization’s objectives and strategy. A business case for the project containing details that answers the question: ‘Why should we do this?’ is produced as output of the evaluation and selection process. If a project is selected, the next step is its prioritization.

Any executive should have the right to bring proposed changes in project priorities to a governance board. The executives on the board must understand the impact of a proposed project or change in priority on the company’s project portfolio and strategic goals.  Which existing projects would have to change? How would that impact resources and company goals?

Creating the Prioritization Process

Create an inventory of strategic objectives for the current or coming business year and include strategic initiatives currently underway.

Define a ‘straw man’ prioritization template with a fill in the blanks approach. The template should have two dimensions; opportunity and risk factors. Opportunity factors could be:

Strategic alignment / fit

Increased revenue

Customer impact

Competitive urgency

Risk factors may include:

Feasibility

Technical

Financial

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