What’s the best way to prioritize projects and initiatives within the portfolio? This is a common question – with equally common answers. Usually, the response is to implement a structure that maps projects to strategic initiatives. Increasingly, the answer is that projects should be mapped to programs and programs to strategic assets.
The problem, of course, is that simply prioritizing your projects doesn’t do a whole lot. The real question is what do we do with that prioritization? What are the data points we need to support the prioritization. At the end of the day, the goal is not prioritization itself but to ensure that organizational resources are applied to the correct work. To ensure we get value from the prioritization exercise, we need to see how that influences downstream decision making.
Hence, we want to look at the downstream impact of the prioritization exercise. How will the work prioritized in the portfolio management process be integrated into the work of the various organizations doing the actual execution? If we don’t have clear line of sight into that process, then improving the prioritization mechanism will yield minimal value to the enterprise.
From the resource perspective, the general goal is to provide clarity on the entire work queue – what are all of the requests outstanding and in what order should those be performed. From an organizational portfolio analytics standpoint, the general goal is to understand what that resource is working on, and to translate that into meaningful terms at the top of the enterprise.
Similarly, what are we prioritizing except organizational constraints? How do we know those constraints unless we’ve already accounted for ongoing commitments and work in progress? What are we prioritizing if we don’t include the work in flight in our assessment of how to support changing business priorities?
Note that I’m not diminishing the importance of prioritizing the project portfolio. In fact, I generally recommend that as the first step in establishing a project management framework. The trick is not to stop with prioritization, but to treat that as the start of the journey – and to understand how it ties in with all of the other processes within the overall framework. That’s how to get value from prioritization.