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Can you afford not to?


Another mantra you will often hear when people speak of successful portfolios and projects is “doing the right projects and doing projects right”.

Like so many things, head off in the wrong direction with the wrong map and kit and you will end up in the wrong place and potentially in a lot of trouble.

So having previously focussed on the ingredients to successful projects or “doing projects right”, let’s look at how we ensure we “do the right projects”.

The first step is having an appropriate intake or demand management process, and then it comes down to applying appropriate rigour and avoiding the two biggest pitfalls that lead to tend to have serious negative effects:

1. Pet projects – a project that a senior stakeholder pushes through without appropriate rigour based on seniority [“just do it” aka JDI], or in equal cases, because people do not push back enough and challenge the senior person to apply the same rigour that should be applied to all projects

2. Too many projects – not saying “no” to any projects as they are all good ideas, yet not prioritising or increasing capacity to ensure they are deliverable. As Steve Jobs said: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done.”

So here’s some structure to put in place:

• Effective demand management or intake process – have a methodology that any new project request needs to follow. This means providing the key information needed by the business to understand what the project or initiative is and is looking to achieve, such as a project brief. And then ensuring this information is captured consistently and in a way it can be reviewed easily to assess. This is where a portfolio management tool becomes very useful so you can see all the submissions and any gaps in information.

• Governance review – have a forum that is critically (1) empowered, (2) cross-functional and (3) appropriately represented for the business areas either accountable for delivering the projects or the receiving parties accountable for making them succeed. This forum should meet at the appropriate frequency required by the business to review the portfolio and new project requests.

The next two questions are very simple: (1) "Should we do this project?" and (2) "Can we do this project?"


• Alignment to strategy – is the proposed initiative aligned to the business strategy and priority goals? It’s rare for something to be proposed that in one way or another isn’t aligned to the business strategy, so it’s key to understand what it will truly contribute to the strategy

• Cost benefit analysis – do the planned benefits weigh up versus the costs (noting the benefits can also be the opportunity cost of not doing it). The key is then to apply appropriate rigour to stress-testing the stated benefits and through various lenses of high and low estimates to avoid the usual over-optimistic business case that is used to justify the project, but was unrealistic from the start


• Capability – do we have the capability or experience to execute this project effectively? If we don’t have the expertise in house, how are we going to mitigate that, recognising the risk profile of the project increases significantly

• Capacity – do we truly have the capacity to execute the project relative to other initiative that are already in progress? What resources will be assigned to this project and what will they stop doing as a result? If there’s a question of prioritisation, a highly effective way of reviewing this is by asking “is it more or less important that this project – if more important, do we stop this other project now so we can start it? Or do we wait?”


The final critical question is on commitment: do you have the full leadership buy-in to the project and once the decision is made, the members of the governance forum stand by that collective decision?

If so, then make it happen and ensure the decision is communicated to all parties who need to be aware and take action.

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