Project Scoring & Prioritization for Maximum Results

Project Scoring & Prioritization for Maximum Results
Enterprise information technology departments often struggle to prioritize the projects assigned to them. Companies have trouble aligning individual projects with their business’ overall objectives: In many cases, certain tasks are prioritized simply because they were assigned by a powerful person within the organization, irrespective of whether or not the project is an urgent priority. Prioritizing tasks on a reactive basis isn’t good for a company’s overall health. In fact, it often results in IT teams getting stuck in an incessant “hamster wheel” of work, with no way to tie the completed work to overall business objectives. Without systems to prioritize the right IT
projects and tie technology initiatives to specific business objectives, much of the work being done by IT is often viewed as misaligned with core business initiatives and therefore a waste of time, effort, and dollars. In order to facilitate a better workflow, reduce costs, and better identify and prioritize low-risk, high-reward projects, it is useful for an enterprise to prioritize technology initiatives according to a standard scoring system.

How Leading Organizations Are Benefitting from Scoring & Prioritizing Tech Initiatives that Are High Strategy, High Return & Low Risk

“Research by MIT and others has demonstrated that a strong governance model
is a key differentiator between companies
that get the most from their investments in
IT and those that don’t.”
- Forrester Research

What Does Scoring & Prioritization Mean?

Numerous companies are now using scoring and prioritization methods in an effort to reduce operating expenses and streamline the company’s objectives. For instance, Gartner recently referenced a large, US-based conglomerate that not only scores and prioritizes initiatives, but bases the compensation of its employees directly on the outcomes of such projects. This innovative approach results in projects that directly meet the company’s stated objectives and rarely run over budget. Implementing a scoring and prioritization process can bring significant advantages to any organization, such as:

  • Ensuring that work that directly drives toward business goals is the highest priority for the IT team• Confirming that projects currently in the pipeline align with the objectives of the business
  • Freeing resource capacity from irrelevant work, which
  • optimizes resources for high-priority strategic projects
  • Eliminating IT’s tendency to reactively prioritize work
  • requests based on politically-driven decision-making

“Most IT departments already have a process in place for work requests,” said George Shaheen, a sales consultant at Innotas. “By simply adding one more step to this process where the request is scored based on a generally accepted scoring framework, the IT department can properly ensure that the highest scoring work, which is best aligned with business goals, is picked up for execution.”

A Three-Step Framework for Approaching Scoring & Prioritization

Step #1 – How to Categorize Potential Projects
IT decision-makers often have difficulty measuring the value of potential projects. Judging value according to a project’s predicted financial return is not recommended, as this perspective would deprioritize many of the technological innovations that enterprises need to further scale their companies; rather, consider adapting a
criteria scale, based on Gartner’s five-perspectives methodology :

  • I. Strategic alignment – How well does the IT investment
  • strategy align with the long-term goals of the business?
  • II. Business process impact – How much would the
  • initiative force the company to change existing business
  • processes?
  • III. Technical architecture – How scalable, resilient, and
  • simple to integrate with existing technology are the
  • databases, operating systems, applications, and
  • networks that would be implemented?
  • IV. Direct payback – What benefits does the initiative have
  • in terms of cost savings, access to increased
  • information, or other advantages?
  • V. Risk – How likely is it that the initiative will fail to meet
  • expectations, and what are the costs involved?

Step #2 – How to Build Scoring Models


In addition to determining criteria for categorizing projects, it’s also essential for organizations to determine a methodology for scoring. There are several models to choose from:

  • I. No range and unweighted
  • Under this model, a project receives one point for each
  • criterion met, and projects will be chosen based on
  • the total number of points. In this model, however, all
  • criteria are assumed to be of equal importance, and it
  • does not allow companies to determine to what extent
  • criteria points are met.
  • II. Range and unweighted
  • This model differs from the previous example in
  • that, rather than receiving zero or one point for each
  • criterion, the project is scored on a range (i.e., from one
  • to five). This option provides a more detailed analysis of
  • how projects fit with corporate goals.
  • III. Weighted scoring

In addition to scoring criteria on a range, this option provides a weighted score for each criterion to determine how important each consideration is to the
organization overall. This scoring model provides a more comprehensive look at how well a project fits the company’s priorities. When creating weighted scoring models, companies should break down the importance of the top priorities of the business to determine how much value to assign to each one, adding up to a total of 100 percent.

As a company refocuses its objectives over time, the weighting calculations may be modified to fit with the organization’s current goals. In determining a ranking score for each criterion, businesses can build charts that clearly define each numerical value’s role, from zero (“does not meet objectives”) to the highest value (i.e., five or 10), which is reserved for projects that closely align with the company’s goals. 

Step #3 – How to Prioritize Projects Based on Plotted Scores

Once a company has determined a scoring methodology and taken the time to rate potential projects according to a set of criteria and their weighted values, executives must then prioritize upcoming projects based on values such as the project’s relevance to overall strategy, potential return on investment, and the amount of risk involved. High-strategy, high-return, low-risk projects will generally be seen as high priority, but it may be more difficult to determine prioritization order for projects with less certain outcomes. In such situations, it may be helpful to use visual modeling tools. Several visual modeling options include:
I. A bubble chart that illustrates strategy (x-axis), return
(y-axis), and project size (bubble size) – See example
below.
II. A bubble chart that illustrates strategy (x-axis), risk
(y-axis), and return (bubble size)
III. An organized list sorted by overall score, from high to
low

risk-chart

 

 

Implementing a scoring and prioritization system for new IT projects is a simple process, as a recent use case from Innotas illustrates.

According to the model, the first step is for company decisionmakers to collectively develop a framework — or multiple frameworks that apply to different types of projects — that can be used to score proposed projects and identify those of the highest priority. Innotas categorizes its scoring criteria based on a set of defined
objectives that align with the company’s long-term goals:
1. BusinessObjectives:
• to increase customer satisfaction and retention
• to build a best-in-class workplace
• to expand into new markets
• to foster environmental responsibility


2. Project Type
Discretionary:
• creates a strategic market advantage for future
prospects
• enables Innotas to run the business more effectively
• improves the efficiency of the IT department
Non-discretionary:
• regulatory/compliance-based
• operational continuity
A Case In Point: A Use Case for Scoring & Prioritizing
IT Projects
• mandatory maintenance and repair


3. Project Size (Small, Medium, or Large)
• cost
• project duration
• employee time involved
Each criterion’s score is then weighted according to how well it fits
each of five scoring categories, which closely correlate to Gartner’s
methodology:
1. Strategy (25%) – the initiative’s alignment with longterm strategy
2. Financial (25%) – the financial benefits that the
initiative can deliver
3. Technology (20%) – the initiative’s alignment to existing
enterprise technology
4. Process (15%) – the initiative’s alignment with existing
or future business practices
5. Delivery (15%) – the likelihood that the initiative will fail
or underperform

Scoring & Prioritization Example

projectmanagement-scoring


Conclusion: Efficient, Aligned IT Operations through
Scoring and Prioritization
Progressive executives and IT managers are now adding scoring and
prioritization systems as a new step in the work approval process,
ensuring that all new projects are scored and prioritized prior to final
approval.
“By implementing a process like this, you can ensure the right work
gets picked up for execution based on how well it drives toward
business objectives,” said Shaheen of Innotas.
When proposed projects receive scores below a company’s cut-off
line, it’s advisable to halt or decline these projects. The company
should instead analyze its budgets to execute more work that directly
aligns with the company’s short- or long-term goals.
It’s crucial for company leaders to revisit the scoring values and
criteria on a regular basis to ensure that the scoring system can adapt
to keep up with the company’s changing priorities. After making
modifications to the framework, leaders can re-analyze current
and upcoming projects to ensure that they are still in line with the
enterprise goals.
By “drinking its own champagne” and applying its own scoring
and prioritization system for its own internal business, Innotas has
focused its resources on projects that fit its clearly defined objectives,
while reducing time and money spent on initiatives that don’t align
with company strategy.
By following a similar approach, organizations of all kinds can create
a more efficient workflow, reduce IT operational costs, and guarantee
that their IT initiatives are always closely aligned with their goals.

The Life Cycle Methodology

The life cycle methodology is one of the most efficient paths you can take for your business opportunity to follow. This methodology is useful in the business world because of its nature. It deploys the most efficient means for a project manager to initiate, plan, execute, and conclude a project plan so a revenue stream can be established by an organization.

The path the life cycle methodology follows begins with the initiation phase. This is where the business plan and feasibility study are conducted to see if the business opportunity will be of a benefit to your organization. There is no need to go further with a project if the profit potential of the opportunity does not meet the goals and scope of the stakeholders. This phase is also the foundation on which your project will be established. [Read more...]

A Recent Addition To Project Management Software

Recently I came across a new project management software, by the name of WebActionHero, and managed to ask the founder Gary Karasek some questions about this new offering.

Can you introduce yourself and what is your background?

I am the founder and CEO of Via Peak Inc., which is a project management software developer. I have degree in Mechanical Engineering and a MSc. in Process Safety and Loss Prevention. I have 25 years experience working on large offshore energy projects in Canada and Russia.

How does you tool differ to other PM tools?

We have built WebActionHero from the ground up with company-wide high integrity Action Management as our core design feature. It’s in our DNA to be able to diligently manage all actions in an organization; any type of action. Many of the features that we began with at Version 1.0 and have added since then, up to release of version 4.0 in Dec 2012, reflect this inherent quality. For example, we allow clients to build form templates that reflect all their business processes that may generate actions or conditions that need to be tracked. We also allow revision control on all our actions, so if during the approval/verification workflow for a given action there is a rejection of the proposed way forward, the workflow gets restarted at the appropriate step at a new revision and the previous revision becomes part of the record.

This provides a full audit trail for each action management through WebActionHero. Another example is how we allow organizations to easily migrate their action spreadsheets into WebActionHero. WebActionHero not only migrates all their actions; it also automatically adds the appropriate approval/verification workflow to each action in the spreadsheet, thus eliminating the pain of manually creating workflows. This completely eliminates data entry errors. We have a patent pending on that process.

What made you decide to enter this market?

As a Risk and Safety Engineer I have had the pleasure of learning the hard way how difficult it is to effectively manage actions in a project environment. Actions get collated into a variety of spreadsheets in different departments, for a variety of reasons. They all get managed via these spreadsheets with a combination of sign off sheets, emails and database systems to progress the approval/verification process.

It takes a lot of effort to reach closure, and still things can get missed or closed improperly, leaving potential latent risk waiting to be discovered later, never a good thing. And as key project milestones approached there would be this surge in management demand in getting remaining actions closed and we would be in panic mode as we scrambled to address everything appropriately. It was through my own experience trying to close HAZOP actions (possibly the most onerous type of action to close as the workflow can involve vendors, regulators, design teams, clients other stakeholders) on a major project that I realized there must be a way to leverage the Cloud for this major pain.

How long can you trial for?

Trial accounts for 30 days can set up by going to our website and completing the short and simple online form.

 

What plans do you have (without giving too much out) for the tool in the future?

When we launched WebActionHero in Beta in Jan 2011 one of our key principles was customer feedback. We sought out a variety of large and small customer profiles with experience in design, construction or operation in several industry sectors: Energy, Shipbuilding, Infrastructure, Food Processing, Manufacturing, Fertilizers, Buildings. This customer engagement strategy, combined with our Lean Development process has allowed us to implement, on a quarterly basis, new WebActionHero features that benefit all users. We have a pipeline of features in place that originate from this process. Without giving too much away I will tell you about one upcoming feature; soon users will be able to create recurring actions and reports.

Can this tool work well for small teams?

WebActionHero can be utilized for any team size.

How is it priced?

WebActionHero is very inexpensive when compared with enterprise software providers, allowing organizations normally unable to afford enterprise quality action management to compete on an even playing feild.

Is it easy to use or do you need training?

We provide 5 hours of training for all new accounts. This training is predominantly for admin users who will have access privileges to set up the account, develop custom forms, prepare workflow templates and edit actions. Most users need just a few minutes of training to use WebActionHero.

Who can benefit most from this tool?

Any industry that must deal with heavily regulated oversight or designs, constructs or operates facilities that have potential accident events can benefit from WebActionHero.

Thank you for answering these questions for Project Management Portmanteau! If you are thinking about testing out this new project management software then head on over to their site for the free trial.

Networking for the Introverted

Ah, networking. The process of walking into a roomful of strangers and making the acquaintance of some of them. Simple, right?

Simple, but not easy, at least for about 70% of the population.

According to Devora Zack, in Networking for People Who Hate Networking, 70% of people are either full-fledged introverts or centroverts—folks in between the extro- and introverted camps. It’s this 70% for whom networking is challenging at best and, at worst, just this side of pulling your own teeth with a pair of pliers.

So, if networking makes you crazy, you’re in the majority.

I am a certifiable introvert, and have plenty of challenges with networking, including the urge to stand like a jacklighted opossum, wondering what to do next. In spite of this, I made a commitment to networking about a year ago, and since then I’ve become able to not only get into the room, but to talk to people, make connections, and even have a good time.

Based on my experience, I have a few tips to share for introverts who either want or need to network:

Don’t just go to network. Go to an event you’d be interested in even if you weren’t going to network at all. That way, you’re less likely to blow it off at the last minute and if the networking doesn’t go so well, it’s not a total loss.

Look for a solitary person. That person standing alone by the wall? A kindred spirit! Sidle over there and introduce yourself.

Invade a small group. No loners in sight? Find a group of two or three people—they’ll be talking. Walk up to them, smile, and just stand there (looking at the people, not your shoes). If one of them makes eye contact but keeps talking, just nod. Sooner or later someone will speak to you, and then it’s introductions all around and you’re off to the races.

Sit at a table with people. Similar to invading a small group. Find a semi-occupied table, ask if the empty seat is free, and grab it. You’re in—your table mates will speak to you, unless they were raised by wolves.

Make with the good manners in the chow line. This is a great warm-up if you don’t have your nerve up quite yet. Get in line for coffee or whatever and be helpful. Grab somebody a cup and let them go first. Hand the person behind you the tongs for the deep-fried mystery thingies, saying something clever like, “here you go.”

Chow down (a little). A coffee or a cookie gives you something to do if you’re not talking, and that prop in your hand gives you a little something to hide behind, in a psychological kind of way. But don’t go crazy. Just fill one hand, so you can shake and exchange cards with the other.

Stand there until somebody talks to you. No, don’t. The whole look-for-a-loner thing only works if the loner’s not you, at least in my experience. I know this isn’t logical, but life’s like that.

Practice. Your networking will get better with practice, just like anything else. Go to networking events regularly, on a schedule that works for you. If once a month, or every other month, is all you can stand, stick with that until you feel like you can practice more. Even if you just show up the first few times and speak to nobody, just being in the room with all those strangers will help you build up to making that first contact.

Don’t DO it — Manage It!

You didn’t really become a project manager because you wanted to work for a living, did you? I get hives just thinking about it. The PM is there to make sure the screws get turned in the right direction at the right time, not to actually turn them. Start turning them yourself and you could (sorry, I can’t resist) screw things up.

Of course, you became a PM because you love making things happen and you find it rewarding to assume responsibility for things. And you want to do a good job or you wouldn’t be among the two or three people reading the blog this quarter. This conscientiousness makes it difficult for you to keep your hands out of the cookie batter, especially if you’re new to the role or things are going south. The problem with is, once you start mucking around in other people’s business, you run a handsome risk of flinging muck everywhere and gumming up your project. When a PM gets involved in the day to day work that rightfully belongs to resource managers and their resources, communications get crossed up and relationships get cracked.

Why might this happen? And what happens if it does?

Expert Syndrome. You’re an expert! You came into project management from a more task-focused field and you’re used to getting in there and doing, not making sure other people are pitching in. So, you start in to work, or more likely—and worse—you try to micro-manage the people practicing in your knowledge area. Folks get resentful, their tolerance quickly gets to zero and pretty soon nobody is telling you anything you need to know because they’re afraid that if they talk to you, they’ll invite further interference or finally give in to the impulse to wring your neck. Relationships are the PM’s most precious, useful resource—handle with care.

Manager Guilt. More common in new PMs, this is the feeling that you’re not really contributing because you’re not writing code or making a CAD drawing or whatever. You stick your nose in, much like the Expert Syndrome PM, only your attitude is… well, kind of pathetic. You end up not only annoying people, but making it obvious you don’t believe in yourself or your role. If you don’t believe in the value of the PM’s function, your team won’t either.

You’re the One. You believe that if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. This is great if you’re one person responsible for a single task area on a project, but if you’re managing the whole thing, what are you going to do? Do all the jobs yourself? Of course you can’t, so you’re going to walk around wishing you could. Take this approach and you’re going to wear yourself down to a nub with worry, and pretty quickly. Projects are hard enough without a freaked-out PM. Make the leap of faith and believe in your team. If you really believe some of the team can’t cut it, go talk to those resource managers Now.

How do you avoid the causes of doing actual work?

Change Your Mind. The causes I’ve outlined above are all more or less related to your emotions and/or your belief system, so the first thing you want to do is change those. You can do it—after all, you chose them. If you’re not sure how to go about it, try engaging a business coach for a few sessions, or read a couple of books. The One-Minute Manager is a good start, even if it is an oversimplification. Neal Whitten’s No-Nonsense Advice for Successful Projects is a great in-depth coverage of just about everything you need to know to achieve project management fame and fortune.

Get With the PM Program. If you’ve got enough time to run around doing work that’s not related to project management, you’re not doing enough of your project management stuff. Go back to the PMBOK guide, or the training materials you used to get your PMP certification, or to a more experienced PM, and figure out what you could be doing that you’re not. Oh, and if you haven’t had any project management training, go get some. There are loads of degrees and programs around, and your company might even foot the bill.

Next: Warm, Fuzzy, and Feudal: Relationships and Project Management

Risk Identification: Going to the Source

When Early Man* slid down from the trees and stood up on the African savannah, the first thing he did was start looking for sources of risk. (Unless he was unlucky, in which case a risk ate him before he even got started.) His approach was simple: just look—at his surroundings and himself. I can’t see behind that clump of bushes—is there a lioness hiding back there? What’s that rustling? Something that might give me a poisonous bite? Is my balance okay? Am I about to step into a hole and break an ankle?

You, the friendly neighborhood project manager, can do pretty much the same thing Early Man did: look for external and internal sources of risk.

External risk sources are things in your general environment not directly connected with the project, but could affect it anyway. For a construction project, the weather could be a source of external risk. What do you do if you’ve finished framing that Gulf Coast hotel and Hurricane Murgatroid comes along and turns half of it into toothpicks? For a software project, one external risk might be just down the hallway, in the server room. What happens if the LAN goes down or the box with all your stuff on it goes belly up?

Internal risk sources are found within the boundaries of the project. Sometimes these will be sitting right at the conference table with you. If that new guy can’t live up to his resumé, how do you make up for the time lost while he gets up to speed or, worse yet, while you get him replaced? Maybe the business requirements won’t be complete, or won’t actually reflect at all what’s wanted in any way, shape or form (it happens)?

You can do a fair bit of looking for sources at your desk by reading over requirements, schedules, work breakdown structures, etc. with pen in hand, thinking “what could go wrong?” every couple of seconds. In days of yore, I had a project management colleague who spent a great deal of time on this sort of what-if work, extrapolating from one possible misstep to the next logical, resulting misstep and the next, much like a chess player thinking through a series of moves (only more slowly). She came up with so many arcane sources of risk we begged her to stop. She didn’t, and the result was a much cleaner product and accompanying process than we otherwise would have had. Be sure to involve your stakeholders and your team in this exercise as well—more on that later.

The take-away here? To find potential sources of risk, look around hard, as if there were a multitude of critters lurking around wanting to eat you… because there are.

Next: Using Risk Lists

* I am just using the male gender for readability—no bias intended.

The Problem-Solving Flow Chart

I just ran across this in my files and thought it was so important I wanted to share it immediately. Besides that, I haven’t written the entry on using risk lists yet.
Keep this flowchart in your files and refer to it next time you’re planning a post-project lessons learned session.

Risk Management: The Tale of Mr. Nervous and Me

Once upon a time, when I was still a pretty new project manager, I got assigned a dotted-lined reporting relationship to someone other than my usual program manager. The project was a big one, in terms of both dollars and prestige, and the guy was nervous. All to often, we’d have conversations like this:

Mr. Nervous: “Have you done anything about risk management?” he would say.

Nev: “Yep. Here’s the risk log from yesterday’s team meeting.”
Mr. Nervous: “Why isn’t it longer? You’re obviously overlooking things!”
Nev: “Um… But the team only identified…”
Mr. Nervous: “Team shmeam! Find the rest of ‘em!”

We did this a lot. It was never fun, and he was never satisfied, at least until we delivered, which we did, well within time, budget and quality measures… in spite of the fact that we got blindsided a couple of times.

Yes. Blindsided. Hosed by unforeseen gremlins lurking in the woodwork. We had a good list, but it wasn’t quite complete. The worst part of it was Mr. Nervous’s I-told-you-so look, which alternated with his panicked look (not much of a treat, either).

The whole experience got me interested in risk management. If 90% of a PM’s job is communication, then the other 90% is risk management. So for the next few entries, that’s what I want to talk about. If you do this well, in a way you can articulate to others, not only can you mellow out the Mr. Nervous’s in your life, you can save yourself an ulcer or two.

 

Next: Risk Identification, Part 1

Zen? And Project Management?

“Zen and the Art of Project Management.” Not an original thought. Not even an original title. But it’s a glorious October Sunday evening and I am sitting on the front porch watching the last light hit the turning leaves before it goes behind the brow of the hilltop I live below. Right now there is nothing to manage except completing this short beginning note and I’m doing my best to give it my full attention. A Zenny occasion if ever there was one.

Paying 100% attention to anything isn’t easy, even this. My wife is asking me if I’m ready for supper. The beagle is trying to eat the napkin from my pre-meal snack. A couple of neighbors passed by a moment ago and beeped the horn, so I couldn’t help but wave at them.

Our work as project managers is the same way, only much more so. 100 things at once clamor for our attention, yet the human mind is only capable of dealing with one thing at a time. Even those who claim to be multi-taskers are really rapidly switching between tasks, not actually attending to them simultaneously.

I believe that the more we are able to single-task, the more quality we’re able to bring to our work and the less stress we add to it. I also believe that as we are single-tasking, it’s vital to do so with great concentration and a loose hold at the same time. If our grasp is loose, it’ll be much easier to change direction when a pressing demand–the unanticipated scope change, the last-minute crunch meeting–arises, as it inevitably will.

What I’m talking about here are the qualities of presence–single-tasking with full concentration–and non-attachment–holding loosely to the matter at hand. It’s paradoxical, but mastering these qualities–not that I have–can mean the difference between working effectively and freaking out, or giving up.

I think now I’ll go meditate on dinner. It’s steak night.