Prioritizing Projects in the Portfolio
A lot of project management guidance is aimed as if people only manage one project, but we know from the many clients we work with that you are all keeping several initiatives going at once. Whether that’s large-scale implementations for clients across the breadth of your business or juggling smaller projects, today’s project teams need the ability to prioritize their work across the whole portfolio.
There are a lot of things to consider when prioritizing projects, not least understanding the organizational strategy that underpins project selection and helps you deliver on your longer term goals as a business. You’ll also need project management software that supports being able to plan and schedule multiple projects, like Primavera P6 Professional. And you’ll need staff with the skills to be able to use it.
Having said that, the framework for understanding project priorities is relatively straightforward, regardless of the size and scale of the work you manage in the portfolio. Here are 5 simple steps for starting to think about what work gets done when so you can be confident that your team is investing their time in the projects that have the highest value.
Step 1: Identify the decision-makers
Who is going to make the decisions around which projects get done when? We’ll come on to some more detail about the process steps later, but for now, it’s important to identify who has the authority to decide on the relative priority of incoming work.
Typically, organizations have a group of people who discuss incoming work and agree whether an idea should proceed to become a project, and if so, what priority it has in relation to the existing work in the pipeline.
Step 2: Agree the process
What’s the process for bringing a project idea to that decision-making group? Perhaps your PMO requires the person requesting the project to complete a form or present a business case. Ideally, each project will require the same amount and type of information to allow projects to be compared. For example, you’d want a high-level idea of how much resource is required or the effort involved in completing the work. That can be compared against the benefits.
If half the projects that turn up for discussion don’t have resource estimates, you can’t reasonably be expected to prioritize them against the ones that do.
Step 3: Agree the prioritization approach
How will projects be prioritized? The importance of project work is always a hot topic for discussion, especially amongst the people who want their work to be completed! Many project sponsors give the impression that they feel their work is the most important, and that’s why an impartial way of assessing project prioritization can help resolve conflicts.
Think about rating scales and criteria for prioritization that can take the emotion out of the discussion. Look for ways you can compare projects objectively and how those categories can be applied in a standardized fashion across all your projects.
You may feel that it is worth having a separate process for small projects, say those that fall under 10 days of effort. The team could get to those whenever they can and have a constant pipeline of small projects to help smooth out their workload peaks and troughs. But for larger initiatives, a clear way of ranking them is essential.
Step 4: Prioritize current projects
The organization has in-flight projects already, so if you are launching a way of prioritizing work, use the current project list as your template. Go through existing work and apply your prioritization criteria. Are you happy with the result?
Make sure all projects are added into Primavera P6 Professional or your project management tool of choice so that there is a central repository for current and incoming work.
There is a chance that once this exercise is complete that you realize the team is not capable of delivering the current workload. If you have never done this analysis before, it’s probable that the team is overcommitted. Use the information to make choices about what work continues and what, if anything, is put on hold.
Step 5: Manage the pipeline of incoming projects
Now you have a process for tracking and prioritizing work coming into the portfolio, put it into practice! Each new project request should go through the process, be assessed, discussed and added to the pipeline. It may displace current in-flight work or it may be slotted into the existing prioritization list to be worked on when someone is available.
This view of all the current and planned work is a useful business tool as it shows you what’s coming up and what resource requirements the organization will have in the future. We’ve been writing as if you have more work approved than people to do it, which is common in most of the clients we work with.
However, there is a chance that you start to see there are very few projects approved for delivery after the ones you have currently got going. That is also useful business data for sales teams to make sure there is enough work in the pipeline to sustain the business and the project delivery professionals going forward.
Keep your records up to date by managing the whole portfolio in an enterprise PPM tool that allows you to drill down into different segments of your work and report in real time.
This may sound simple to implement, and in theory, it is. However, implementing project portfolio management and making use of those extra multi-project and program management features within your software can be a bit of a challenge. It’s definitely a mindset change for some organizations that have never had to think about incoming work before.
As your organization scales, and you manage your project portfolio in a more mature way, it’s definitely worth investing time in making prioritizing projects and this process as easy as possible, and using the software you have already to help.