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Nicky ClarkeNovember 22 20228 min read

How to do the right thing and pick the right projects

Blog post series

Do the right thing - Blog #5

Why do we need to figure out what the right projects are, and how do we do that?

  • The “why” is simple. Projects, whether they are initiatives to sustain the business or to innovate it, keep your organization moving forward.
  • The “how” is more complex. It starts at the executive level where the corporate goals, pillars, and mission statements are born.

These powerful statements are the foundation of any successful business. However, they often lack context or detail on how to achieve these lofty goals and that’s where strategic planning comes into play and an understanding of your company's current situation - a real-time inventory of your assets.

Seeing the big picture 

It's crucial to know what you already have in terms of resources, technology, current projects etc., so you know what you’re working with to turn a corporate pillar into an actionable plan. Spreadsheets are still commonly used to manage that inventory.

However aggregating and rolling up static siloed data takes time and makes it hard to be agile. How can you visualize what’s really going on within your business from a bunch of spreadsheets?

With the right technology, you can eliminate spreadsheets and fully automate this process creating a big picture view of the state of your business and a real-time inventory of your organization’s technologies, processes, systems, and people.

This integrated portfolio management approach helps organizations identify opportunities, overlap, gaps in resources, define what should be pursued or not, and begin to strategize a tactical path that aligns projected outcomes with corporate goals.


What makes a project ‘right’?

Project choices abound. How can we make the right choices about which opportunities should be pursued as projects? How can we avoid investing our limited money and manpower in dead ends?

MicrosoftTeams-image (74)

Picture a funnel in these early stages of project   selection. The mouth of the funnel captures all   of the ideas for projects that the business could undertake. The purpose of the funnel is to choose only those projects that meet specific criteria.

Each project should produce tangible benefits, but

  • Will those benefits help your business achieve its goals over the next twelve months?
  • Are the benefits aligned with your overall business goals?

The result should be a collection of projects that is definitive, coordinated, and executable. Ultimately, the collection will help you fulfil your core business objectives.


Project prioritization

The priority work should align to your corporate strategy, big picture goals, and maybe some company values. All these things help set the direction for choosing projects. However, alone, they aren’t detailed enough to help you put projects in a specific order of priority.

You need project selection criteria for that - the characteristics of the projects you do want to do. One of them will be ‘strategic fit’ or ‘alignment’ but alone that isn’t enough. Other, more practical factors will be available resource, funding, and executive sponsors but you need other criteria for selecting whether a project should go ahead:

  • What return on investment does the project expect to deliver? Over what time period? Projects with a higher return should get priority. Typically, projects that pay back in a shorter period are considered a better investment.

  • How complex is the project? You may decide to prioritize lower complexity projects at busy times for your business, or at times when you are struggling for resources.

  • What strategic goals does the project support? Projects that support more than one strategic goal could be higher priorities than those that only support one.

  • Does the project help achieve regulatory compliance? If so, it may be a requirement for your business to do the project, whether it aligns with strategy or not.

  • Does this project support our environmental and corporate social responsibility goals? There may be good reasons for investing in ethical or green projects.

  • When will the project finish? If you have too many projects scheduled to go live at the same time, that might be too large a change management overhead for the business to accept.

  • What are the task dependencies and project dependencies? How does this project relate to the others we already have at the moment?

  • What implications are there to the supply chain? Have we also looked at the risks to the project’s successful delivery?


How to pick the right projects

As a PMO leader or department head you can make informed decisions about what work to take forward once you have your list of business cases or ideas. Hopefully, your selection criteria – when applied to each business case – has given you a clear numerical position for each.

The ideas scoring the highest are at the top of the list – these are your top priority projects. The ideas with mid-ranking numbers fall towards the middle of your priority listing. Everything else falls towards the bottom.


Challenges of picking the right projects

One of the biggest prioritization issues is that organizations select the wrong projects. As you work through the selection process it should become apparent which are the initiatives that should never be taken forward and become a project.


MicrosoftTeams-image (75)

Break down siloed behaviour

Decisions are being made by a small group who need both top down and bottom up information. Silo thinking is one of the greatest stumbling blocks for strategic alignment. Free flow of real-time information both horizontally between teams and departments and vertically from top management all the way to front line employees and vice versa is key.

MicrosoftTeams-image (78)


Outdated spreadsheets, documents and slide decks, and constant searching for the latest information will only limit alignment between departments. Information on changes in the external business environment that could affect the organization's strategy needs to be passed on quickly too. Strategy software can help to facilitate efficient communication within the organization.

The right project tool

There are plenty of tools out there to help you execute your projects right but tools to help you choose the right project using real time relevant data to drive that is important upfront so that the right decision can be made before it starts becoming very expensive.

"In a meeting, all the information is there to take decisions. In just 4 clicks I can go from a strategic goal in a particular area of safety, security or sustainability to the granular detail and I can show senior management who’s doing what, the progress against it, when it’s going to be completed and how much it’s going to cost."

Steve Enright, UK Head of Safety, Security & Sustainability, Abellio

Strategic planning is about more than just a few PowerPoints. Effective roadmaps engage your team members, emphasizing real-time collaboration through visual information. Roadmaps are crucial to long-term business success, and a modern tool allows for those plans to be adjusted continuously.

Project visualization

Visualization plays an important role in the strategic planning process. It helps bring people together to develop the right strategy and execute it effectively. Without a unifying solution that allows communication and collaboration across different levels though, strategies end up separated from the operations they are supposed to drive.

Project and portfolio management tools may help bring the data and monitoring back into one digital place, but they aren’t always visually enticing or user-friendly for non-technical stakeholders. The right digital tool combines these capabilities with more advanced features that enable you to create and navigate intuitive visual maps of complex ideas and relationships.

Swim Lane Relationships (2)


The right tool allows you to analyze situations, challenges, and interdependencies, to initially assist with pushing the right projects forward, and assess overall progress quickly and easily. It can also integrate data from other solutions such as spreadsheet files to make it simple and fast to update strategic roadmaps.

Agile project management 

Handling a wide range of different issues with single members of various teams can prove chaotic, especially if they are positioned at different levels of the company.

For example, senior management will be focusing on overall strategy and goals, while middle project managers will need more detail on tasks and actions within each project. Using the right strategic planning software can help you map out everything in a clear, concise way, ensuring all teams know exactly what’s ahead, and let all stakeholders see how the strategy unfolds over time and comment on its progress.

The relationships between different areas of your strategy can be complex and change dynamically, and in the case of an emergent strategy, the execution may feed information back that then changes the strategy.

All the information in one place

The right software will help you and your team to store, organize, and analyze data in one place and report data instantly, enabling you to make efficient decisions when needed. During meetings, you can present your portfolio in a clear, engaging way to highlight metrics, costs, timescales, and potential risks in your project. No more complicated spreadsheets, all the information is at your fingertips.

Increasing transparency and accountability

An instant overview of everyone's responsibilities ensures every team member is accounted for. This can improve productivity as well as highlight any underlying issues that may prevent a project progressing or achieving its goal.  Agile and flexible tools get everybody contributing to, aware of, and aligned with strategy formulation and execution, however fast it changes.


The right software will help you to pick the right projects


  • Align goals, teams and data to get a complete view of the business – use your big picture to identify risks and opportunities. 

  • Empower and align your teams with increased visibility of priorities and accountability for delivery. 
  • Spend less time on rework – create and connect data sets and information once, use it over and over again.
  • Escape from slide decks and complex spreadsheet discussions.
  • Stop searching for information – standards for capturing information ensures trust, dynamic data means everyone is on the same page.
  • Make better data-driven decisions with increased visibility and understanding of implications.
  • Improve alignment through joint decision-making based on accurate information.
  • Get instant visibility across all areas of the business with real-time customizable dashboards and reports.

  • ​Present ideas, manage complex project portfolios and assess and manage risks for your team. 

How to do the right projects right

In our final blog we look at doing the right projects right.

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