Restoring order

THE BUSINESS of Projects

If you find yourself “selling a project,” it may be time to overhaul your organization's project selection process.



I often hear people say: “It's just as important to do the right projects as it is to do projects right.” Well, that's not really true. It's actually much more important to do the right projects than to do projects right.

Why? Because there is so much more money at stake in choosing which projects to invest in than there is in increasing the efficiency of chosen projects. Unfortunately, I think that message has yet to sink in with many senior managers and corporate executives.

My training and consulting practice has brought me into direct or indirect contact with hundreds of companies over the past several years. I remain astounded at how many of them do not use systematic, data driven, objective, needs-based processes as the foundation for project identification and selection. Sadly, what appears to be alive and well in countless companies is what I refer to as the “Gee, this seems like a good idea” process.

For organizations looking for the right projects, this process must end.

As the name implies, the “good idea” approach stems from someone assuming he or she has found an answer for a problem.

It's a scenario that I have seen play out all too often: An organizational manager comes up with what he or she believes is a good, actionable idea. A manager at a parts manufacturing company, for instance, “suggests” the purchase and installation of a specific software system to do cost control. These specific recommendations become projects and are placed on an already bloated list of projects waiting to be executed.

No strategic-gap analysis. No business-outcomes requirements. No alternatives analysis. No feasibility study. No resource analysis. Nothing. The directive: Just get it done.

Later, project funding documents are prepared (often by unsuspecting project managers). The authors of these documents find themselves stretching their imagination as they ask: What problem, need or opportunity does this project best address? What corporate strategy does this project seem to link to? Would this action help us fulfill our operational excellence goals? If so, how?

This is not the time to be asking these kinds of questions. Things are already out of order.


The phrase “selling a project” is a clear indication that the organization's process of identifying and selecting projects is not being implemented in the correct order.

What the company needs first is a needs-based, gap-analysis process run from the executive suite on down. Among its greatest benefits is that when you are done, there is no question in anyone's mind regarding the value of a project and how it links to organizational strategy. In other words, there is no need whatsoever to “sell” that project.

Organizational managers must begin with a deep understanding of their strategic objectives. But they must also recognize that this process goes well beyond simply understanding what the strategic objectives are. They must routinely identify and quantify any strategic gaps that may exist—gaps between where the organization is today and where it needs to be in order to completely fulfill those strategic objectives. Once this has been done, it will be easy to identify the right projects.

More of today's organizational managers need to get their project identification and selection process in order—the correct order. Organizations that embrace a strategy-driven, top-down project-selection process and abandon the “good idea” approach will be able to stop selling projects.

In my next column, I will reveal what an excellent strategy-driven, top-down project selection process looks like. Stay tuned. PM

images Gary R. Heerkens, MBA, CBM, PMP, president of Management Solutions Group, Inc., is a consultant, trainer, speaker and author with 25 years of project management experience. His latest book is The Business-Savvy Project Manager.




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