That Time of Year: Rethinking the Project Queue

It is starting to be that time of year again.  Many of my clients are gearing up for the annual ritual of planning and budgeting for next year.  While planning may seem a theoretical nicety in a business climate that is focused on survival, there are a number of advantages that lean times provide.  Many of the conceits of the planning and budgeting process must simply go out the window, especially as they pertain to change projects in a queue for approval and funding.  Here are a few ideas from client organizations that are bearing fruit.

Software Will Not Save Us

Remember ERP &  CRM?  The go-go days of projects, especially technology driven projects, are so 20th century.  Companies are putting more rigor into the assessment phase of change initiatives.  They are actively engaging in the risk mitigation that was so often ignored through the 90’s- looking at the project implications beyond the technology.   In short, companies are not assuming that software alone will create the value that requires organizational or process changes to achieve.

Just Say “No”

But say “no” for the right reasons: While the ROI or business need may look wildly positive on paper, if the project is not deliverable, then it is a time and resource sink.  Take your project queue, usually ordered for approval and funding by ROI, business need or the political stick of the sponsor and reorder it based on likelihood of success.   If a project does not have a sponsor with the chops to bring it in and cannot win sufficient resource to get over the finish line, just kill it.  If you cannot kill it, then rethink the sponsor and resource allocation.  A critical change initiative that dies 90% of the way to completion is generally worth 0% of the investment.

Separate Planning from Project Management

How do we get unrealistic scope documents, wild ROI projections and optimistic timelines to begin with?  We get them because the people doing the planning are those who want to undertake the project.  So they are not planning, but instead working toward a winning proposal to senior management.  As such they see through a lens of getting the project into motion and can be easily distracted from the harder questions that make the difference between success and DOA.  $250,000 spent on planning a project that is not approved is not failure.  It is reason to celebrate the $20 million saved that failed execution would have cost because of overly optimistic planning.  Not only that, a core team of planning experts can help the project team to focus on what they are really signing up for.  The delivery team should experience a pretty healthy “gulp factor” about anything they commit to deliver.