Organisations which fail to prioritise their projects and activities in alignment with their goals risk getting lost in a mire of directionless activity instead of taking a clear set of actions to reach a goal or goals.

Most organisations build an inventory of projects and activities over time, which are not visible to the leadership team. Organisations need to periodically stop, take stock and prioritise the projects and activities they are undertaking against the goals of the organisation.

Symptoms, including incomplete projects, project cost overruns, operating cost blow outs, low customer satisfaction, low productivity and low morale are typical of organisations which are unable to prioritise their inventory of projects and activities.

In one organisation I worked with, the competitive environment was tightening dramatically. The goals, which were set for the following twelve to eighteen months, related to managing the portfolio of products, services and customers to achieve a drastic cost reduction.

They had an inventory of over two hundred discretionary projects and activities. That is, projects and activities outside of both the day to day business and those projects required to comply with internal or external regulations. Reviewing that inventory revealed less than forty percent of the projects and activities were aligned to the goals. Further, less than fifty percent of the projects and activities were deliverable within the desired timeframe.

Effectively, less than twenty percent of the discretionary projects and activities were aligned to their goals and timeframe. As a result, several projects were stopped completely, and many were postponed.

Key projects and activities, which delivered against the goals in the time frame required, were given additional resources and a shorter timeline for delivery.

The first, most difficult and most important task in a prioritisation review is to understand clearly what the organisation’s goals are.

In the context of this article, goals are the few business outcomes that define an organisation as being successful.

To achieve their goals all organisations create a number of projects and activities designed to deliver business improvement and execute a large number of day to day processes. The projects and activities have targets and milestones and the processes have key performance indicators with associated targets and boundary values. Targets, milestones and key performance indicators are not goals.

In my experience, organisation’s which have more than three major goals tend to fail to deliver on any of them.

One reason is that it is difficult to articulate more than three goals without finding at the operating level, that the unintended consequence of one goal contradicts another goal. Even with three goals, it becomes difficult at the operating level not be confused by the conflicting requirements of meeting each of the goals.

If the goals are clear, it is important to understand for each project or activity, what are the key deliverables and what support is required for delivery. In many cases organisations do not think deeply enough about what support is required for a project to deliver. The result from this lack of project planning is that the review of project against the organisation’s goals is flawed from the beginning.

The review itself is fairly simple if the goals are clear and all the tasks required to complete the projects and activities are well understood.

For each project or activity, evaluate its alignment with the goals. Be brutal. If it is not aligned with goals rate it very low in a scoring range of 1-10.

Complete a second pass evaluating each project or activity on its likely completion date. If the completion date does not meet the time horizon required for the organisation to deliver against the goals, revise the project, perhaps into shorter phases. If it cannot be revised, rate it very low.

A third pass evaluates the probability of successful completion. The evaluation includes an analysis of resource requirements compared with resource availability and of stakeholder support. The resources to be evaluated include, but are not limited to competent people, money, and technology.

Discard or revise those projects with a collective low total score.

Projects which survive the review must be planned. The aggregation of those plans must be tested in ninety day or less blocks against the resource availability where common resources are being used across several projects.

By taking a ruthless approach to prioritising projects against the goals and resource availability of the organisation, more projects are completed on time. The results for successful projects are higher productivity within both the project activities and the day to day processes.

For unsuccessful projects, a benefit often overlooked is the earlier realisation that a project is going to be unsuccessful and the organisation is able to close it off and release resources for another project.

In either case, when it comes to projects and activities designed to improve the business, doing less most often achieves more.