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Five “Simple” Questions to Facilitate Project Selection & Prioritization

Don’t misunderstand me – project evaluation or prioritization is NOT simple – getting a team of decision makers to come to an agreement on a ranked set of projects while putting aside their individual agendas such that the organization’s objectives are met can make achieving world peace appear trivial! 

While I’ve covered in a past article on the project scoring that coming up with a scoring model for a project can be a key input into the decision making process, starting with a consistent set of questions can provide an objective counterpoint to balance the expected project “lobbying” from decision makers.    

The following standard domain and industry-neutral questions could kick start this shift.

1. Which business or operational metrics are expected to be improved by doing this project and by how much?

Regardless of what industry you operate in, all “worthwhile” projects should result in improvements to at least one business or operational metric.  In some cases, you may not have previously quantified the metric, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  For example, a project to train internal IT staff on a new technology may not directly impact profitability, but it could improve the capabilities of the organization and could boost employee morale, both of which could be distilled into metrics.

2. Which business or operational metrics are expected to be negatively impacted by doing this project and by how much?  

Positive changes in one area will often result in issues to another, and these negative impacts need to be weighed against the benefits expected from the previous question.

3. What is the expected financial and resource burden of this project and over what time period? 

Cash-strapped companies might be tempted to focus on financial requirements only, but poor use of resource capacity is one of the greatest opportunity costs an organization can incur.  Both one-time and ongoing requirements need to be considered.

4. Does this project satisfy an external regulatory or contractual requirement

Unfortunately, there will always be some projects that have to be executed to keep the company compliant.  This is why it is important to ensure that the cure is not worse than the disease as I had covered in this earlier article.

5. How severe is the project & business risk? 

Ignoring negative project risks (i.e. those potential events that could impact the project’s objectives & constraints) or business risks (i.e. those potential events resulting from the project that could impact the realization of the project’s benefits or the business as a whole) will be like jumping out of an airplane without checking that your parachute is viable.

Expending excessive effort in developing a detailed scoring model is academic if executive leadership behaviors don’t change, but consistent evaluation and presentation of holistic project information is one way to start the transition to a more objective approach. 

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