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How to prioritise IT projects in a growing business

/ Strategy
January 16th, 2019

IT strategy - Prioritising IT projects in a growing business

In a growing business, it often feels like every IT project is the number one priority, but with limited resources available it’s simply not possible – or practical – to tackle them all at once. But when everyone is clamouring for attention, how do you decide which project comes first?

One of the problems many businesses face with project management is that projects are siloed. They exist solely within the department that initiated them, even when they impact others. This can lead to multiple projects competing for the same resources (technologies, people), as well as running on conflicting deadlines and to different goals.

The above approach does not consider the strategic impact of the project – how will it assist in achieving the overall goals and objectives of the business? Not only does this present risk to the business, but it is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to prioritise and measure value.

What is the solution?

Luckily, there are proven strategies which you can use to evaluate and prioritise, ensuring the workload is managed, risks are controlled, and deadlines are met. Below, is a six-step plan the senior management team can deploy to gain greater control over projects.

1. Understand the strategic direction of the business

Involve all key stakeholders in this detailed planning session to review and/or draw up a roadmap for the overall vision of the business. Clearly understanding the strategic aims of the business will provide valuable insights to guide decision making for projects.

2. Identify motivation

What are the factors which will drive the business to initiate a project?

  • Competitive advantage
  • Financial benefit
  • Operational efficiency
  • Improving quality
  • Reducing risk
  • Growth/business opportunities

Ensure that the business is undertaking projects for the right reasons and is thinking strategically. While competitive advantage is a motivator, you don’t simply undertake a project because ‘everyone else is doing it’. For example, “all our competitors are in the cloud, so we should move our entire environment within X period” is not a correct motivator, nor is it a strategy. It does not consider the benefits – or risks – to the business, it simply shows fear.

3. Determine the strategic value

Consider the impact and the desired project outcome. How will it assist in the achievement of overall strategic goals? What is the immediate and/or long-term impact of the project? What are the anticipated project benefits? Weigh each point to evaluate projects against each other. Just because a project will deliver great strategic value does not necessarily mean it should have top billing.

For example, you may have a project where the aim is to become compliant with a certain piece of upcoming legislation. The project itself may have little strategic value and require a lot of resources (which could have a negative immediate impact), but your organisation may be required to comply with this new legislation by a certain date to continue trading or to avoid financial/regulatory sanctions. In this case, this project would obviously need to be the top priority.

4. Identify project success factors

Most companies will have limited time, budgets and resources available, making it impossible to take on every conceived project. Therefore, it’s important to consider all factors which could impact a successful delivery such as; return on investment (ROI), budgeted funds, availability of resources, timings and any dependencies or limitations. If one project depends on the successful outcome of another then it may need to be put on hold.

5. Create a scoring system

You need a matrix will which allow you to evaluate the motivators and success factors of various projects side by side and determine an overall score for each one. For a more advanced matrix, you can also weight each of the drivers according to current business priorities. So, one driver may be more important depending on the current situation of the company. For example, if a company was in financial crisis, expense reduction would be a more important driver than growth.

6. Finalise

Once the above steps have been completed, it’s important that the senior management team sit down and review the project evaluation and the scoring system, plus any other findings, to ensure expectations are clear. This also presents an additional opportunity for final input and for the management team to confirm that they agree with the priority list for IT projects.

A guaranteed solution?

Of course, the above approach relies on alignment across the whole business, where the strategic objectives are clear and well-communicated to all stakeholders. Yet typically you will find a gap between the corporate strategic objectives and the priorities for individual departments.

Given this gap, it’s unlikely that you will be able to map every single project to the overall strategic objectives immediately, but you should aim to fully align the top ones. As you develop and improve alignment across the organisation, this entire task should gradually become easier as everyone is clear on the business’s priorities and the direction they are travelling.

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