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A Project Selection Checklist for the Busy Project Manager
By Ian Needs

Let’s be honest: in the real world, you and I both know that some projects are selected largely on instinct and intuition.

Sure, there are lots of conventional methods for project selection, like benefit measurement or constrained optimization methods. But a busy project manager doesn’t always apply these methods, partly because you make decisions based on your experience, and partly because you don’t always have time to apply the more objective techniques taught in PM training.

The Zen of Project Selection

Often, the fastest way to reach a valid project selection decision is to look for reasons not to go ahead with the project. If you find any, then your next step is made easy for you: reject the project and move on.

Here’s a simple checklist to help with your project selection process. It isn’t exhaustive, but it covers all the essentials so that you can make a quick decision to either reject the project or give it more of your valuable time.

  1. Objectives – If you haven’t determined these, you can’t proceed any further just yet. Your objectives should be crystal clear before you consider the business case and other elements of project selection.
  2. Strategic fit – What’s the mission? Your project objectives should align closely with your organisation’s strategic plan, and the project’s value should lie in a mission-critical or at least mission-supporting dimension.

  3. Value – Don’t select a project without potential for at least one of the following: financial benefits, brand benefits (which includes things like customer satisfaction, complaint resolution efficiency, and employee morale) or intangible benefits.

  4. Costs – Estimate the running costs, investments and operating costs. If the sum of these costs is unrealistically high, then the project is probably beyond your reach, at least for now.

  5. Risks – If the risks outweigh the potential benefits, or if accountability for project risks isn’t clear, then don’t proceed.

  6. Time – Consider the time frame and any specific time constraints on this project. Ideally, a project should give you room to add a time “buffer” – this could be an extra few days or several weeks, depending on the project, to build in an allowance for delays.

  7. Outcomes – What are they, how are they to be measured, and who’s responsible for them? You must be able to tie outcomes directly back to objectives and overall strategy, otherwise the project will be ineffective even if it’s a success.

  8. Meaning – The relevance of this project in the real world is a greater question than project success or failure. Is there an open, viable market for what this project offers? Will the project’s success make a noticeable impact? If not, it might be a waste of resources.

  9. Stakeholder Support – this could be the greatest project in the world, but if you already know that the stakeholders will hate the idea, you’ll need to let it pass unless you can find a way to reframe it for greater acceptance. Remember, too, that the stakeholders don’t necessarily share a single common motive.

Armed with this checklist, you should be able to make lighter work of project selection by quickly eliminating the projects that are least worth pursuing, and focusing your attention on a deeper look at the projects that survive your initial check for negative signs.

Ian Needs is Marketing Manager at KeyedIn Solutions, who create PM and PPM software in both the UK and USA. Click here to visit KeyedIn Projects USA, or here to visit the KeyedIn UK site.

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