In a sea of change do we need to change how we approach projects or just perform better? If we're doing what we should be doing, we can deliver value

Fast and Furious?

Academics and others are peddling the line that business is changing so fast that it is pointless setting out on a project of any duration because too much can change in the meantime. So, instead, you’re to focus on defining the problem and identify what assumptions are involved in this problem definition and, therefore, what action needs to be taken to confirm the problem because, by the time you’ve confirmed it, it may have changed due to other circumstances!

Okay, we’re in the midst of the greatest financial crisis of our lifetimes. The world today is not the same as the world of even January 2007. Things have moved fast in that banks have disappeared or become part-government owned, credit has dried up and ‘leverage’ and ‘debt’ are now unacceptable words in business.

But how has this changed projects? Most organizations have reviewed their projects and culled some, mostly to conserve cash and investment funds rather than because the projects are now irrelevant (although some will have become irrelevant).

Do we need to change or just perform?

But does this change how we approach projects as claimed by the academics? Not really. What it does do is highlight the need for our project prioritization and delivery processes to work more effectively.

We need effective prioritization processes that cull early poor and irrelevant projects early and allow us to flex our project portfolio to meet future environments and challenges.

Our ‘strategic alignment’ processes need to reflect our current strategies. Revenue growth may have been replaced in priority by cash conservation or cash flow management. Supply chain protection may have replaced supply chain optimization, and so on. Strategic alignment processes should be reviewed yearly at least, so this may only add one or two additional reviews.

Project planning and delivery processes need to ensure continuous delivery of benefits so that if a project needs to be cancelled or mothballed it has already delivered something of value. But projects should be doing this anyway.

Benefits tracking and measurement now become paramount in that if you’re going to approve projects you now need to ensure you fully realize the value (rather than rely on ‘hope’). But, again, this should be the norm (although I concede it is not).

Every project should now be measuring its viability as, with the economic climate changing, some of the financial parameters can change radically on almost a monthly basis which, in turn, can dramatically impact the financial viability of a project.

So what is really happening?

So, I don’t think the academics are right.

Sure some things are changing fast, but should the reaction be a furious realignment to short-term agile type approaches to projects in the belief that too much will change to make any other approach workable? No.

The more appropriate answer is to quickly get our house in order in terms of how we select, prioritize and deliver projects and their benefits — which is what we’ve been furiously saying for many, many years!

Topics: Prioritization

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Dec 2008) as "The Continuing Need For Effective Project Prioritization"

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