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From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Project Selection Scorecard

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.

Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”– George Bernard Shaw

A colleague of mine is a contract project and change manager. Before he finishes an assignment, he launches a search for his next gig. His primary concern, of course, is continuing to earn an income. However, he’s also looking for potentially great projects that are fun, offer learning opportunities, provide a scintillating professional environment and deliver something meaningful. But the number one criteria in his search is the potential for the project to be successful. He has developed a project selection scorecard for that.

Thanks to Adekoya Taiwo for the idea for this article

The Project Selection Scorecard considers ten factors. Here’s an example.

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Using the Project Selection Scorecard is pretty straightforward. There are five stages:

1. Gathering information about the project – If you’re being interviewed for a project or change management role, consider who’s providing you with information on the project – a Human Resources interviewer, the project owner, the head of the PMO, or others. The accuracy and completeness of the information you receive can vary considerably based on the source. You will need to be focused to obtain the best possible project profile. If you aren’t satisfied with the answers you receive, don’t hesitate to ask to talk to someone who has more insight. That act, in itself, could set you apart from the competition, hopefully in a positive way.

2. Determining the stage of the project – As you’re gathering the information you need, consider where the project is in its life cycle. If it’s at the very start, you’ll obviously receive fewer details than if the project is already underway or has already delivered some components. Use that knowledge to shape your questions and form your opinions.

3. Assessing the significance of the information – For each of the ten categories in the Scorecard, you need to reach a judgement on each about its level of robustness. The Scorecard uses a scale of 1 – 5, where 1 is minimal coverage or support and 5 is mature or comprehensive coverage. If an answer isn’t immediately obvious, ask more questions about the category and seek greater substance. Be conservative in your assessments. Err on the side of a lower rating if in doubt.

4. Drawing conclusions about a project’s suitability – Once you’ve assessed each of the ten categories and rated them from 1 to 5, total the numbers and reach a conclusion about the project’s chances for success. Suggested judgements are:

  • total of 30 or less and any category less than 3 – significant risk of project failure
  • total greater than 30 but one or more categories less than 3 – some risk requiring remediation
  • total of 40 or more and no category less than 3 – excellent prospects for project success

5. Making a decision – With the project profile in hand, you can now decide whether you’re interested in taking on the project. You have a couple of options:

  • If you’re interested – you like the opportunity, the company, the people – but the score leaves something to be desired, seek further input from a knowledgeable source within the organization.
  • If your heart says yes and your head says no, accept the contract if offered but make absolutely sure that the contract is contingent on the gaps (those categories rated 3 or less) being closed.
  • If you’re all in and like the opportunity, say yes if offered but review the scorecard with the key stakeholders once you’re on the job. That will serve two purposes; it will help you confirm the accuracy of your assessments and, it will give your key stakeholders some additional insights into the project and into who you are and what you’re looking for.

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The ten categories included in the Scorecard are perennial best practices for well run and successfully delivered projects. Here’s a bit more detail:

1. Engaged initiating sponsors – An engaged initiating sponsor is the individual who takes ownership for the project and commits to shepherd it through to the bitter end. They make the necessary decisions when they are required. They provide or arrange appropriate time, priority, funding, resources and organizational commitment. They are the key success factor.

2. Engaged reinforcing sponsors – Reinforcing sponsors are the directors/managers/supervisors of departments affected by the change. They are essential champions and guides to help the affected staff acquire the necessary new skills, beliefs and behaviours for a change to be successful. Having those players already identified and engaged will make your life and the project’s prospects so much better.

3. Roles & responsibilities – Everyone on and affected by a planned change needs to know the decision-makers and their accountabilities and responsibilities as well as those that should be consulted and informed. Look for a RACI chart or similar. That would serve this need perfectly.

4. Business Case – The business case is the heart of the project. It describes the rationale for the change, the key players, the impact on the organization as well as on customers and external entities, the expected value that will be delivered, what the organization is willing to invest, the targeted payback period, alternative business and technology options, relevant implementation strategies and perceived risks. Projects without a grounding business case tend to be aimless, costly and unsuccessful. I don’t think that’s what you want to take on.

5. Funding – Talk is cheap, change is expensive. Projects that succeed have funding and resourcing available in accordance with the intended magnitude and duration of the effort. Do you want to spend all your time scrambling for funds or spending the previously allocated resources to achieve your project’s goals? Your choice.

6. Strategic compliance – Corporate strategies delineate a path to a desired end state. Successful projects tend to be fully integrated with that strategic direction and supportive of that end goal. Look for an acknowledgement of the corporate strategy and an understanding of how the proposed projects relates. If you don’t get that feedback, be extra vigilant.

7. Prioritization – Clearly prioritized and appropriately timed initiatives ensure projects get the time, attention and support they need, when they need it. Effective prioritization maximizes the effective use of executive time and corporate resources. A properly prioritized project means you’ll have a much more productive project experience if you decide to take it on.

8. Organizational practices – The importance of well-defined and engrained project and change management practices, quality processes, security, infrastructure change management and others will obviously be dictated by the nature of the project. Ask about organizational practices needed and/or impacted by the planned change and then assess the robustness of the organization’s capability as you progress through the interview process.

9. Organizational skills & capabilities – The specific needs for and impacts on skills and organizational capabilities, like organizational practices above, is very dependent on the planned change and the options chosen. However, ask the questions and see what response you get. The more insightful and complete, the better. If the interviewer’s eyes glaze over, beware.

10. Risk assessment – Look for some clearly articulated risks and mitigation options. As well, insight and understanding of the risks a project might face shifts and evolves as a project progresses. So, you’ll also want to see evidence of an ongoing risk management process, not just a static, one-time assessment.

The scorecard takes very little time to complete. Of course, gathering all the information you need to be able to make an informed assessment can be a bit more time-consuming. As a result, you will probably find yourself completing and revising the scorecard iteratively as you go through the interview process.

Also, don’t hesitate to use the scorecard as a mini project health check at any time during a project. Get other key stakeholders to complete it and compare the results with them to reveal potential gaps or conflicts and opportunities for remedial action. It’s also a great tool to use if you have an organizational change that results in the departure or addition of a key decision-maker.

Finally, feel free to revise and adapt the Project Selection Scorecard as you see fit to meet your particular needs. And please let us know how it’s working for you and what changes you’ve made to improve its performance. Thanks.
Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors. After all, Project Pre-Check is the ultimate project governance framework.

Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected].

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