The business case or a summary of it is usually the key document for evaluation and approval of the project. This is inadequate. At the evaluation stage you also need to validate the project set up too as this can be an invisible driver of excessive costs.

Approving projects that are set up to fail act as invisible drivers of excessive costs. 

When a project is at the evaluation stage, you also need to validate the project set-up. You need to assess the following:

  • Is the project set up to deliver the business case? Often the project plan and the business case are created by two different teams so the correlation between the two documents can be tenuous.
  • Is the business case consistent? The business case can claim benefits it will never deliver or that the project is not set up to deliver.
  • Are all of the planned outcomes worthwhile (optimal)?
  • Have the costs been over or understated?
  • Have the benefits been over or understated?
  • Have some of the benefits available from this project been ‘parked’ to justify another project later? And so on.

The validation process for a business case pulls apart both the project and business case document to identify each and every existing problem and issue.

At the business case stage, most of the seeds of failure are visible - if you know where to look. Many of these ‘seeds’ seem small but will grow to be massive and costly problems downstream.

Many project managers know of these problems but dismiss them as inconsequential or easily manageable.

But these problems need to be fixed BEFORE the project is approved. Relying on “oh, we’ll fix them later” is a recipe for disaster and waste.

A team recently trained in the validation process tested their new skills on the last six $10 million+ projects that had been approved. They found that five out of the six should not have been approved. One year later one of these five projects had failed and the other four were in trouble. All totally avoidable waste.

The top 5% of organisations make visible projects set-up-to-fail through a thorough, politically independent validation process.

The validation process also identifies bad ideas that should not be pursued at all.

In conclusion

An excellent validation process for your business cases is one step that can dramatically increase the value of every project portfolio - if you have the courage to implement it and sustain it!

That is what differentiates the TOP 5% from the also-rans.


Topics: Strategy Execution, Capital Investment

Further Reading

The TOP 5% describes


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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Feb 2020) as "Approving Projects Set Up To Fail"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections