"Priorities" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

Often organizations can find themselves under a mountain of requests and they can’t see the forest from the trees. It’s overwhelming and management may not know where to start – so they don’t, and what ends up happening is the organization becomes short sighted. Meaning that priorities are a reaction to today’s biggest issue, efforts are directionless, and most requests are escalated up the management change.

Vision

The source of the problem stems from lack of vision, and the corporate objectives that come as a result.

To get a grip on priorities you have to start with having a vision – even if it’s just a simple one line statement of where you’re aiming at; it’s the step to narrowing a blurry view into a focused one by getting everyone pointed in the same direction.

In essence all a vision is, is a statement of where you aim to be. Without one, there is no direction – you can move fast, but moving fast in a circle results in moving no where.

Corporate Objectives

From that vision, define your corporate objectives or goals. These are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound (aka S.M.A.R.T goals).

For example:

  • Increase delivery time of widgets by 10% over the next 12 months.
  • Decrease customer complaints by 5% over the next quarter.
  • Decrease network outages to less than 5 minutes by 06/01/13.
Nested Objectives

As a corporation you only need 2 to 5 of these; each organization underneath you will have nested objectives that support your top level goals. And now that these have been defined, you have the various projects that support each of these objectives.

Alignment of Projects

So go back to your endless laundry list of requests, priorities, enhancements, and projects and first determine which ones are supportive of the goals in your organization. If they do not support the goals, then you have to simply put them aside – even if they’re good ideas.

Executive Sponsorship

What’s left requires evaluating if projects have an executive sponsor. If a project is unsupported, you’re taking a huge risk by investing any effort in such a thing. There may be ROI, and it may support the goals, but without executive sponsorship the chances that the project will be successful is highly doubtful. This is because the project will then hinge it’s success purely on the ability for all the teams involved to function by consensus; and of course all serious projects come to serious forks in the road where differences in opinion will deadlock the project – an executive sponsor can make those tough decisions.

Another reason why executive sponsorship is needed is because if each team involved doesn’t have their portions of the project as deliverables as part of their performance plan, there’s no incentive for them to put in the effort. In fact, putting in any time, takes away from projects they are on the hook for.

Lastly, if an executive finds out you spent a large amount of money and it didn’t pay off, now you’re in deep water with no one to support you.

ROI

Ok, now you have a list of projects that are aligned to the goals of the corporation, and have the executive sponsor to back it. You still will have a list of projects that require more resources than you have, the next step is to evaluate the potential Return On Investment (ROI).

The ROI comes in the simple and tangible form of quantitative, and the difficult to measure qualitative. Projects that have more quantitative ROI are the ones you want to go after, as they’re easier to measure the actual results (increased revenues, cost savings, etc…). Versus the qualitative ROI which is almost impossible to measure, and even more difficult to actualize.

Of the quantitative ones you want to evaluate the actual potential ROI, how easy it is to actualize that ROI, and how you’re going to actualize the ROI (projects that don’t require anything to actualize are the best, e.g. switching to a lower cost vendor).

Here are some things to think about. If you reduce the time it takes to do something, what’s the return? From a financial and quantitative perspective the answer is none.

The return is when you see the impact to the bottom line – now saving time definitely has qualitative benefits, but the point here is as high as an ROI is, you need to assess how capable your management organization is at being able to actualize the ROI.

E.g. does it entail reducing overhead, reducing headcount, restructuring the organization, etc… Say that project can save $50M, but costs $100M – your ROI 50% in one year. Compare that to a project that costs $100, and saves you $100/yr, this has a 100% ROI.

So keep a relative perspective in mind as well; smaller projects may not have the huge total numbers of bigger projects, but their ROI is much easier to actualize and therefore lower risk.

The bottom line is you need to rank projects by ROI- giving extra points to projects with more quantitative than qualitative, giving extra points to the ROI ratio, and extra points to ease of ROI actualization.

You can only calculate ROI if you have the (I)nvestment portion, so you pick off the top x projects until all your resources are booked for whatever time frame you’re working with.

Conclusion

Using this formula will help you get a grip on priorities and get your organization executing on a path that will allow the organization to achieve its goals.

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