Home / Project Management / How To Decide What Projects Not To Do

How To Decide What Projects Not To Do

Projects and Project Management

There are not enough resources in your company to Do All The Things. Right?

You have a finite amount of money. You have a flexible (but ultimately limited by money) pool of people to do the work. You probably have a long list of good ideas and business cases that you’d like to turn into projects.

Or, to rephrase, you have a long list of work ides that senior managers would like to get done as projects.

It’s not difficult to see the problem. You can’t do it all. So how do you decide what not to do?

Set Priorities

First, you need to know what the priorities are. The priority work should align to your corporate strategy.

You’ll probably have some big picture goals, maybe some company values, and a strategy. All of these things help set the direction for choosing projects. However, alone, they aren’t detailed enough to help you put projects in a specific order of priority.

You need selection criteria for that.

Create the Project Selection Criteria

Project selection criteria are the characteristics of the projects you do want to do.

One of them will be ‘strategic fit’ or ‘alignment’ but alone that isn’t enough. Frankly, a canny manager can make anything sound like it has strategic fit. You need other criteria for selecting whether a project should go ahead.

These can be derivatives of strategic fit, paired with a mixture of other criteria that are appropriate for your business. For example:

  • Does the project help achieve regulatory compliance? If so, it may be a requirement for your business to do the project, whether it aligns with strategy or not.
  • What return on investment does the project expect to deliver? Over what time period? Projects with a higher return should get priority. Sometimes time period is important too. Typically, projects that pay back in a shorter period are considered a better investment.
  • How complex is the project? You may decide to prioritise lower complexity projects at busy times for your business, or at times when you are struggling for resources.
  • What strategic goals does the project support? Projects that support more than one strategic goal could be higher priorities than those that only support one.
  • Is the project essential to remain competitive in the marketplace? Building an online purchasing system isn’t compliance and may not be on your strategy roadmap, but if all your competitors offer the ability to buy online, then you should be prioritising that too.
  • Does this project support our environmental and corporate social responsibility goals? There may be good reasons for investing in ethical or green projects throughout the year, for example, if your company has a commitment to spending, say 20% of environmental initiatives.

You can also add other, more practical factors like:

  • Is the resource available?
  • How will the project be funded?
  • How long is the project schedule to be?
  • Does the project have an executive sponsor?

Your PMO should come up with (if they haven’t got already) a list of the project prioritisation categories. Ideally, you should be able to assess the criteria on a numerical basis, so that the “answer” pops out as a single number.

Pick the Right Projects

Strategic AlignmentArmed with your list of business cases (or ideas) and your selection criteria, you can make informed decisions about what work to take forward. Hopefully, your selection criteria – when applied to each business case – have given you a clear numerical position for each.

Be warned: there is likely to be a lot of discussion around what number each project should be granted for each criteria. When the outcome is that the project possibly won’t get done, the stakes for project sponsors are high.

You can best deal with this by having a specific process in place for project selection. Perhaps you have a committee that debates and decides how each business case fits with the criteria. Find an approach that everyone can agree on, publicise it (to show you are making the decision in a fair way) and use it.

Take your list of business cases or ideas. Apply the selection criteria to each idea, marking each business case on its merits, on the ranking scale.

All you have to do is put the list in numerical order. The ideas scoring the highest are at the top of the list – these are your top priority projects. The ideas with mid-ranking numbers fall towards the middle of your priority listing. Everything else falls towards the bottom – we’ll come to those in a moment.

You still have finite resources, so while you have a neatly ordered priority list, you still have to work out what is realistically achievable with your current resources. You need to agree on this internally.

You may opt to do the top 10 projects, or as many projects as you can do until you hit your budget of £x. Or you might apply a bit more analysis and work out how many people hours are required for each project, how many humans you have on the team and generate a final list from there.

However, you do it, you should end up with a list of projects, in priority order, that cuts off at the point you can’t take on any more.

The good ideas that fall below the cut off-line can sit there until you have more people or more money – as long as nothing else with a higher priority number comes along first.

Say No to the Wrong Projects

By default, the projects that don’t meet your selection criteria are the ones you should not be doing. You can further split the ‘wrong’ projects into two piles:

  • Those that you can’t do right now, for whatever reason.
  • Those that you shouldn’t do ever.

The time might not be right for a particular project. For example, it doesn’t make sense to recruit a bunch of people when you know that next month an office is closing and you’ll have plenty of skilled resources looking for alternative positions.

Keep those ideas on the list and have a plan to take them forward to the next step when the timing feels better.

As you work through the selection process it should become apparent which are the initiatives that should never be taken forward and become a project.

They will be the activities that are so far from strategic alignment that you know they couldn’t make sense for your business. They are the ideas that have a scarily high investment for almost zero return (and no other sensible reason to do them either). These are the business cases that get rejected.

Let the proposers know that these ideas will not be taken forward in their current form. Those individuals may be able to rework the business case, tweaking the proposal to become something that isn’t ridiculous. If they can do that, you should be open to reviewing the proposal again and looking at it with fresh eyes.

Doing the right projects means actively deciding not to work on the wrong projects. How do you do that in your business? Tweet us @2080StrategyEx. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to our RSS feed!
Download 2019 Catalogue

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Discover the new Adaptive Strategic Execution Programme

Get notified of new blog post weekly. Guaranteed spam and advert free.

We publish two new articles by leading thought leaders every week. Subscribe to our weekly digest email and never miss another blog post.

%d bloggers like this: