Published in “Project Times” website, January 6, 2015
As we think about the New Year, we should review our projects. Since projects are the lifeblood of most organizations (as their success or failure impacts customers, profit/ loss and or cash flow in almost every client), why wouldn’t we take this opportunity to make sure we are focusing on the “right” projects to move our organizations forward rapidly? In essence, take stock of projects.
One area that all of my clients have in common is that they have too many projects going at the same time – without exception. Since the marketplace is changing rapidly, it feels as though everyone is playing catch-up while simultaneously trying to grow the business and manage costs. Thus, to be successful, focus is required. How should we prioritize projects? I’ve found a few simple guidelines to work: 1) Fit with strategy. 2) Impact 3) Urgency 4) Change
- Fit with strategy: Although this seems obvious, it is often overlooked. The New Year is a great time to take a step back and make sure the projects absorbing scarce resources are a fit with your strategy. Has the strategy changed? If so, have you re-evaluated your projects? You must!
For example, if your strategy is to grow your international sales, a quick check of your projects will give you a pulse. Are the vast majority of your projects focused on internal to U.S. needs? If so, they should be re-evaluated. Your top strategic goals should drive the majority of your projects. Ideally, you’d postpone the rest. After all, they will likely drain resources needed for your top priorities. Logical; however, it is often hard to implement. Stopping projects is strangely harder than starting them. Obviously, from a mechanical viewpoint, stopping a project is easy; however, from a people viewpoint it is less clear. Don’t just send an email, “Your project has been cancelled.” Instead, explain why the project is on hold or cancelled, re-allocate your best resources to those projects aligned with the strategy and re-engage project teams. You’ll achieve an easy win.
- Impact: It probably goes without saying that the return on investment (whether financial or otherwise) should be examined. Do you throw good resources after bad? Not on purpose. However, if we are spinning your wheels and dedicating project teams to small returns (even if they are pet projects), isn’t that what you’re doing?
Use the New Year as an opportunity to take stock. Re-analyze your impacts. How are you progressing? Has the impact changed? Just because it used to be a large impact doesn’t mean we should continue to dedicate resources to one that will not achieve the expected returns. For example, when gas prices were high, the cost of materials such as poly and plastic were higher. During that timeframe, the executives might have dedicated substantial resources to minimizing the amount of plastic in products. However, with the price decreases, although still a “good idea”, it might have moved from position 2 to position 15 in terms of impact. Should you still tie up resources on a 15th priority?
- Urgency: This speaks to whether a project addresses an urgent need. For example, in our home life, if the dog is going to run into the street after the handsome dog across the street with cars driving close by, it is an urgent issue – no time can be wasted on analyses. In work life, if your #1 customer dictates that if you are not live with a vendor managed inventory program by the end of the first quarter, you’ll lose the business, it becomes urgent.
There are often urgent issues which are not impactful or even a fit with strategy – and vice versa. The key is not to be in perpetual firefighting mode dealing with urgent issues and ignoring non-urgent yet highly impactful items. Take a fresh look at your projects from this perspective.
- Change: In this case, the question is whether the outcome the project addresses will get beter over time if nothing occurs, or whether it will get worse or stay the same. If the outcome gradually improves on its own, it would be a lower priority. On the other hand, if it gets worse with each passing day, this type would receive a higher priority. For example, if you have a leak in the roof of your manufacturing facility in a rainy state, it will get worse over time if nothing is done. Thus, it would be prioritized in a higher category for this reason.
In the New Year, take a step back to re-evaluate your autopilot mode. Are you working on the “right” projects? If not, it won’t matter if you achieve them, you’ll company will still decline. How are you determining if they are the “right” projects? This simple act of focus will drive quick progress and success.