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So Many Projects, So Little Time: 5 Tips for Choosing Wisely

By Greg Cullison

StockSnap_VD6UM98X8P.jpgChoosing which internal projects to focus efforts on may not seem like the most critical challenge in your organization, but getting it right can be a make-or-break opportunity.

How do you ensure that your next project supports your broader goals and pushes your organization forward? How do you prioritize your efforts to achieve the greatest impact?

The answers aren’t always obvious. When your team is gathered in a single room to plot out next steps, you may end up contending with clashes of personality or just simple disagreement on matters of project selection.

The way forward may seem clear to each individual stakeholder, but leadership must be on the same page. You need to identify all of the productive directions you might take and then select your project according to a consistent, rational, and objective process. 

Where do you start?

This first step – understanding the directions you might take – can be more important than many organizations realize.

We saw a perfect example of this phenomenon with one recent client, whose leadership believed they had only a handful of potential projects to pursue. However, when they decided to broaden the group of decision-makers, the sheer number of possibilities that opened up surprised everyone. This story is a reminder of another key principle: it’s important that all stakeholders are in the room from beginning to end.

Once you’ve identified the paths before you, it’s time to choose. As you embark on the selection process, make sure to consider five key points:

1. Ensure that the project aligns with your organizational strategy.

Why is it so important that organizations select the right projects in the first place? If a prospective project is simply a good idea – or more problematically, someone’s pet project – it’s unlikely to survive. For this reason, you need to make certain that the prospective project aligns with your overall organizational strategy.

Again, it’s important that all key stakeholders are in the room, and that they’re familiar with your overall strategy. With your strategy as a guide, identify where each project might meet multiple organizational goals. One way to measure the efficacy of a project is using a two-by-two matrix, or a "benefit-effort" matrix.

On one axis, chart the project’s ease of implementation. On the other, chart its anticipated impact on organizational goals. Without this comparative tool, your effort on a project might ultimately outweigh impact. But by using this framework, you can select the projects that will make the biggest difference.

2. Identify a project champion.

One of the most crucial factors in a project’s success is its having a designated champion or owner. Without a clear assignment of responsibility and advocacy, a project can falter. But with a properly identified champion, you can make sure everything proceeds as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

The individual who serves as project champion should have a role at the highest level of the organization. They should also, of course, carry a commitment to seeing the project through. The champion’s job is to support the project, communicate its progress to the team at large, and tear down any barriers that might hinder the project’s success.

3. Conduct an organizational or environmental assessment. 

How broad and intensive an effort will this project be for your organization? In order to find out, you should conduct an organizational or environmental assessment. This is key for helping you better understand the context in which you will undertake your project.

In this process, you will answer questions like:

  • How involved will different functions or processes within your organization be on this project?
  • Is it isolated to the IT department (for example), or will this be a cross-functional department project?
  • Which departments’ processes will be impacted by the outcomes of this project, and what changes might they have to make as a result?

This assessment helps you both scope and coordinate the project, while anticipating future needs.

4. Assess your resources.

Speaking of future needs, the next step is to evaluate the resources you have at hand to accomplish the project ahead.

In this case, resources may mean people, time, or budget. Do you have the resources necessary to complete the project successfully and efficiently? This should be a key consideration in selecting your project. Projects for which you do not have sufficient resources may stall and become an ongoing drain on your organization, while less ambitious projects may help you reach a position from which you can more easily accomplish more expensive or time-consuming goals.

5. Identify your parameters for success.

When will your project be complete? This is a crucial point to decide up-front. As you set out on your undertaking, nail down your parameters for completing the project, particularly the timeframe. Will it take six months or a year?

As you consider timeframes, you should also decide on the metrics by which you will measure success. When you know these metrics from the start, you will be able to track not only your results, but your progress along the way.

With these five considerations guiding your project selection process, you’ll be ready to choose the projects that will best serve your organizational goals. From here, it’s all a matter of implementing your project – and managing it to a successful conclusion.

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