Saturday, May 23, 2009

Which projects should you focus on first?

Continued from:

“Get Your Projects Under Control…”

If you have too many projects going at the same time, pick the best ones to focus your resources on: but how do you do that?

If no other factors are in play, choose the projects that most closely look to be near completion. This can be difficult, given that “90% done” syndrome ; you may focus on a 90% done project and find it is more like only 10% done in reality(!), at which point I would drop it and move on to a more promising project.

Other factors can be applied in selecting projects sub-set; they depend a lot on how much information you have on your projects, and can include:

- Business Value or Return On Investment: if you already have some notion of the value of a delivering a project, especially a cost-benefit analysis, you can try attacking the projects with the highest value if that is something your business management will appreciate. Many companies are good at defining value or benefit up-front, but only the better companies take the time after a project is complete to confirm if the benefits really were realized. If you company does not do this yet, suggest they start, but avoid this factor for selecting the projects subset until they do start.

- Project Priority, which can be determined based on a combination of Business Value and/or other Project Drivers. This is often a weighted calculation where values are assigned based on how well a project addresses items such as ‘increased sales’, ‘improved decision-making’, ‘better customer service’, etc. . Each project has a priority value to compare to others, and highest-priority projects are initiated first.
If you have a Priority value assigned for your projects, but it really hasn’t been the key factor in initiating projects, then start using it; that’s pretty obvious, I know. What is more likely is that priority did play a part in initiating projects, but has not carried over to decisions made during projects. If your projects are now executing out-of-priority order, see if re-ordering them will help in faster delivery and increased business value.

- When all else fails, Ask. (Or just start with Ask). It will be no big secret if you have many projects underway with no ends in sight. It is also likely that many current stakeholders may not have been involved when some of the projects were started. So, you can meet with these stakeholders to determine what their current priorities are and which projects are of most value to them.
The usual issue with this approach is: who should I ask? In a perfect situation, I look for the person highest in the organization whose span of control covers all departments who sponsored or are impacted by the projects. However, this person could be senior enough in the company that they may decline to help you, preferring to delegate to their reports. Querying and meeting with this group may give you the priorities you need; or, it may illustrate any politics or power struggles that are on-going, for which you may be able to facilitate a resolution or at least a compromise…or not. In the latter case, it may be necessary to escalate this back to groups’ common manager for resolution.

So, one or more of the above factors may assist you in identifying the best sub-set of projects to first target for quick completion. If no strong values or priorities can be discerned, I would default to those that can finish the fastest.

About Me

Ontario, Canada
I have been an IT Business Analyst for 25 years, so I must have learned something. Also been on a lot of projects, which I have distilled into the book "Cascade": follow the link to the right to see more.