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Project Triage – An Introduction
By Joanne Wortman

The concept of triage comes from medicine, and in particular medical treatment under difficult circumstances—war, epidemic, disaster—where the number of people needing treatment exceeds the resources available. In such situations, the sick or injured are typically assigned to one of three groups.

In the business context, it usually means allocating scarce cash and human capital under difficult economic conditions, when the number of ongoing projects exceeds the level of available resources.

Project Triage Framework

In the current economic climate, it probably makes sense to perform a mini-triage of your project portfolio quarterly, with an annual triage as the last fiscal quarter approaches. In addition, you may be faced with the need to triage in emergency situations such as a sudden shift in business strategy, in the face of a new acquisition, or when presented with an across the board budget cut. Periodic review is a cornerstone of an effective project portfolio management strategy. This regular triage can be a valuable form of project insurance. Preventative medicine is always less costly than crisis treatment.

Your triage team should include your senior IT management as well as functional business leadership. Performing project triage is easiest if there is regular, reliable status reporting from the project teams, on their milestone and budget status.

Triage is also easier if your project initiation process includes a business case that assigns a business criticality score to the project. It’s entirely possible that business criticality of a given project might change over the course of the project’s lifecycle, and a master project status tracking document helps the triage team keep track of this.

After reviewing the health of individual projects and their alignment with current business needs, triage will place them into three groups which align perfectly with the medical definition of triage:

  1. Persons who are likely to live even if they don’t receive immediate treatment – projects going well that need no additional intervention.
  2. Persons who are likely to die even if they do receive immediate treatment – projects that you should suspend NOW before they chew up additional resources.

  3. Persons who are like to live only if they receive immediate treatment – projects that need you to perform an immediate intervention.

Joanne Wortman, JWortman@edgewater.com, Director of Consulting, Edgewater Technology, Inc.

Joanne Wortman has been leading complex technology projects, M&A integration programs, business process reengineering efforts and change management initiatives for more than a decade. Her work has been published in Buyouts Magazine and at www.vcexperts.com. Ms. Wortman holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Edgewater Technology, Inc. is an innovative technology management consulting firm. We provide a unique blend of specialty IT services by leveraging our proven industry expertise in strategy, technology and enterprise performance management. Headquartered in Wakefield, MA, we go to market by vertical industry and provide our clients with a wide range of business and technology offerings.

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