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8 Powerful Ways to Choose and Execute Projects
By Harry Hall

Your company’s future is at hand. Select and execute the right projects and you will reach your greatest potential. Select the wrong projects and you will fall behind your competition—possibly crash and burn.

I have seen companies wrestle with the project selection process for years. Which projects should we choose? Do we have the right resources to execute the projects?

A sad but common story

Here’s a common scenario. Senior management has grand ideas on enhancing an existing product and leaping past the competition. The project sponsor has declared a six month project deadline.

The project manager expresses concern: there is insufficient information to determine whether the project can be delivered within six months. The project sponsor says we have no choice. Do the best you can.

The project manager kicks off the project with little understanding of what will be included in the product. The project sponsor is busy and unengaged. The project team starts to analyze and define the project. A couple of the team members start defining requirements. Other team members start building the desired deliverables and pass the pieces to another team to test.

The project team works nights and weekends for months. Team members feel stressed to the max. The company continues to pay significant overtime.

Amazingly, it appears the team will make the deadline.

The trainer begins to roll out the training. In the first two training sessions, users begin to see the enhanced product for the first time. The users moan and make cautious but critical remarks. They share their concerns with their functional managers who share with people up the chain of command. Powerful and influential stakeholders start calling the project sponsor to demand changes. The sponsor discovers the changes will require four months.

The project selection process is a tough problem and the solution may not be the same for everyone. Be assured—the problem is not unsolvable. Here are some practices that can greatly enhance your chance for success.

Better Ways to Select and Execute Projects

  1. Make sure the project sponsor is actively engaged. Absentee sponsors won’t cut it. Project team members lack the strategic foresight and authority to complete projects successfully. The sponsor can ensure the team stays on the right path and has the required resources.
  2. Charter a project board to select projects. Project requests are submitted to the board for approval. Better yet, have the project sponsors make brief presentations to the board. Address questions.

  3. Define the project selection criteria. Tell the organization how projects will be selected. Defining and communicating the criteria to the organization eliminates wasted time. Project sponsors will not waste time defining projects that will not make the cut. Selection criteria might include: 1) strategic importance, 2) regulatory compliance, 3) financial viability, and 4) business and technical flexibility to accommodate future changes, to name a few.

  4. Determine what’s required to get a project approved. A good starting point is to have the project sponsors submit a project charter to the project board. The charter is a brief document defining the business case, project problem definition, goals, deliverables, constraints, assumptions, stakeholders, team members, and top risks.

  5. Give preliminary project approval and request additional information to be presented after the product and project scope has been defined. Don’t have sufficient information to determine whether to fund the project? The project scope management processes include collecting requirements, defining a detailed description of the project and product, and decomposing the project into deliverables. The scoping process is a journey of discovery. As the project team analyzes the project, the team can see the challenges and opportunities more clearly. Stakeholders are involved and different perspectives are considered.

  6. Engage stakeholders in validating the project scope. The scope management process also includes the formal acceptance of the complete project deliverables. People don’t like surprises. Keep appropriate stakeholders engaged in the inspection and acceptance of the project deliverables.

  7. Refine estimates over time. Senior management often wants to know how long it will take to deliver a project before the scope of the project has been defined. If the project manager lacks sufficient information, he or she may wish to provide an early high-level estimate with the agreement that he or she will provide a more detailed estimate after the product and project scope has been defined.

  8. Choose the appropriate approach. If the project is well understood but cannot be completed in the desired timeframe, you may elect to reduce the scope, use an incremental or staged approach (i.e., deliver the project in chunks), or use an agile approach. If the project is not well understood or defined, strongly consider an agile approach. Define the scope by capturing user stories in the product backlog and incrementally implement through iterations.

Getting closer to checkmate…

Companies are in a chess match every day. Each company has strategic risks including bad strategy, bad execution, and competition. Most companies struggle with making project decisions efficiently and effectively.

Imagine a day when your company has a competitive advantage by making faster and better project decisions. Your teams are getting things to market faster than ever. It can happen, but it will require action.

Plan, Do, Execute. Select some of the steps in this article. Execute. Evaluate and make the necessary changes.

Harry Hall, PMP, PMI-RMP, is the Director of Enterprise Risk Management at the Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, one of the largest domestic insurance companies in the state of Georgia. You can read more from Harry on his blog.

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