As we continue to weather economic uncertainty, organisations must prioritise projects wisely. The reimagined EPMO has a leading role to play in assessing value, resourcing impacts and risk to ensure optimal project selection and sequencing. 

No organisation plans for failure. However, it’s fair to say that as project professionals, we have all seen our fair share of projects that haven’t fully delivered on the promise. Now, with uncertain economic conditions setting the scene for reduced budgets and increased pressure to deliver financial results, the appetite for less-than-successful projects is lower than ever.   

Amidst all the uncertainty, leaders may look to ensure they are achieving optimised outcomes with the investment available. That means important decisions must be made around prioritisation and sequencing of projects, with an eye on delivering the greatest value without placing outsized stress on the organisation. 

The reimagined enterprise project management office (EPMO), where the central project body becomes a high-level strategic enabler rather than acting as the project police, can play an important role in the project prioritisation process. There are three key considerations to help guide the decision-making process. 

Assessing value across the portfolio 

When you hear the word value, it’s easy to think of it as being interchangeable with financial return on investment (ROI). And ROI is, of course, a critical marker of value. However, there are other ways you can – and should – determine value, particularly in the current economic environment. 

Perhaps most importantly, it’s important that your annual project agenda has clear line-of-sight to your organisation’s overarching strategy.  

For the vast majority, financial health will be just one part of a bigger strategic mix. We always encourage leaders to consider “risk-based” projects as part of the project prioritisation process, e.g.: 

  • Projects that will not furnish a significant financial return (if any) but are critical in helping to secure your “social licence to operate” – whether that is with the community, regulators, the government or other critical stakeholders. 
  • Projects that will not deliver a financial return in the shorter term but need to be established as soon as possible to unlock emerging capabilities and longer-term strategic value – e.g. data warehousing. 

There are an infinite number of ways organisations can determine value, and no “one size fits all” method to do so. The critical takeaway for the EPMO is to make sure you bring a diverse range of perspectives to the table while you are prioritising your project portfolio, and to thoroughly assess the risk of not prioritising any given project in the year ahead.  

In the tough times ahead, it’s likely the portfolio will have an increased proportion of projects focused on returning a financial value. It’s not always as simple as ranking them in order of “best ROI” to “worst ROI” and working down the list. More on that a bit later.   

Resourcing and impact on people 

All too often we see project portfolios that have been stitched together without sufficient consideration for their impact on the people involved. This is a grave error indeed.  

The foremost consideration is the impact of change in challenging times – specifically, the impact of too much change on your people. However, it’s also important to consider the potential consequences of resourcing the projects themselves.

Projects don’t happen in vacuums. Even if you try to quarantine them to minimise the workload impact on critical parts of the organisation by bringing in business analysts and project managers to lead the project, most projects still require substantial input from your internal subject matter or domain experts.  

For most people, providing subject matter expertise on one or perhaps two projects will not prove particularly onerous. However, issues could arise if you are relying on them to consult on multiple projects with high strategic value.  

Backfilling roles for critical experts is one option, but this takes time and money (with no guarantee the replacement will be a success). A better approach is for the EPMO to create a heat map of the various projects to determine the demand on teams and people across the organisation. There may be benefits in prioritising one or more projects that rank slightly lower on your list in terms of value but help to spread the change load and impact more evenly.  

A risk-based assessment 

Earlier we touched on projects that may pose a substantial risk if they are not executed during the year ahead. The flip side of this coin is projects that may be deemed too risky to proceed amidst a challenging operating environment.

The critical consideration is understanding how much inherent risk is attached to realising the benefit attached to each project. Generally speaking, a project that requires substantial cultural change, or long windows to execute and embed, is likely to have higher risk of failure attached to it – even if the planned benefits are substantial.

On the other hand, when there is a straight, short line between project and benefits realisation, the risk is likely to be much lower.

That is not to say that higher risk transformation projects should not be attempted in a risky) but critical, it can still be executed with the right guardrails (i.e. appropriate governance and oversight, appropriate change management and so on).  

With a sharper focus on successful projects returning real value, projects with lower risk and increased likelihood of successful benefit realisation are likely to be popular in the next few months.   

Where to next? 

If you’ve worked through this process and have identified your priorities for the year ahead – congratulations, you’ve reached the all-important business case phase. Business cases have a challenging reputation, largely because they’re notoriously difficult to get right – even when it’s all smooth sailing in the economic landscape. Suffice to say it’s an even greater challenge to prepare a winning business case when you’re fighting for budget and the pressure is on to deliver ROI.

Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team or reach out to have a discussion today.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...