So many choices.
Projects start with problems to solve or opportunities to do things better. New products, new services, streamlined operations. There really are an infinite number of projects you could work on.
With so many potential projects, how do we decide which ones are worth our attention and resources?
Project selection and portfolio management are the hottest new topics in project management today. As we've gotten better at executing projects, the big issue has become, "Which Projects?"
We've heard it said that "You can't compare apples and oranges." It is a phrase that characterizes a choice between two options with different benefits and disadvantages. Choosing between potential projects frequently presents that same dilemma.
A seasoned executive can justifiably rely on her/his intuition and judgment to choose between two projects, even if they are an apple and an orange. That won't work for project portfolios. The projects that a company or department will invest in are typically chosen by a group of people and the range of projects can turn the "apples vs. oranges" dilemma into a fruit salad. With limited resources it is absolutely essential to prioritize your projects pick the projects that deliver the best results with the least risk?
The principles of project selection include:
Use established selection criteria to reduce the politics and subjectivity associated with the decision.
Recognize that some projects MUST be done. Include regulatory, compliance, and maintenance projects in this group.
Prioritize projects based upon resource availability, too. Some less important projects might leap-frog up the list when you realize that you have the resources to get them done sooner.
Be willing to cancel projects that are under way if it looks like initial estimates for costs, schedule, or benefits were wrong. Update the business case with new information and cut your losses if the new numbers don't add up.
Accurate estimates for new ideas are sometimes hard to get. Have a realistic estimating and approval approach that accommodates ball park or other early stage estimates.
Technology lets you put these principles to work. Microsoft Project Server 2010 is our favorite technology for prioritizing projects and resource forecasting. Project Server 2010 reduces the effort to apply best practices, so you get more benefits.
Portfolio modeling allows projects to be ranked by department priorities and cost – literally producing a “best bang for your buck” list.
Resource forecasting integrates Microsoft Project plans to show exactly how much work any person is assigned for any day, week, or month, even when he/she is assigned to many projects. That also applies to job categories such as engineer, technical writer, or quality assurance specialist.
Projects prioritized by department priorities. Selection line driven by department budget.
Graph showing the resource forecast across projects for a department. Someone has eyes bigger than their stomach!
Successful project portfolio management
relies on four regularly recurring themes:
People with the skills to make the right decisions
A consistent process that creates predictability and can be fine-tuned over time
Information technology that provides the necessary data with a minimum of effort
Some person or group within the organization that is responsible for making this work
As is often the case, the processes and technology for prioritizing projects have already been developed. To benefit, take the industry standard practices and technology and adjust them to fit your unique characteristics.
It is a high stakes choice.
Choosing projects is choosing results. Where do you really want to go? What can you afford to pursue? The right combination of projects will result in a unified direction and strategic accomplishments. The wrong combination will cost you the time, effort, and expense without the reward.
If your firm doesn't use a systematic process or is not using technology that makes this all possible, contact The Versatile Company for advice on getting more results from your project investment.