A project intake and prioritization process gathers input from stakeholders at the onset of a project using straightforward criteria to guide decisions about the project. By the end of the process, you will be able to determine which requests get done and which do not---with a defendable rationale for why.
Another new project is coming your way. Questions start to pile up: who’s going to handle this, how will it be handled, what is the end goal, when does it have to be done, what about that other project, etc., etc.
Is there any methodology to get a handle on this? Yes. (Whew.)
Recently we blogged about the benefits of using a helpdesk management tool to track tickets being reported and worked on by IT folks. Occasionally, someone reports an issue to the helpdesk that is a full-blown project, and not just a simple ticket. A project is recognizable because it may involve multiple people or different departments to coordinate and a higher level of effort to resolve. Some organizations set a threshold for the minimum level of effort that categorizes work as a project, rather than a task. For some associations that might be as low as 20 hours; for others 100 hours is the norm.
When a new project is suggested, how do we decide if or when it gets resourced and scheduled? Intake processes ensure IT is working on the projects that are the most important and valuable to the business.
Many IT leaders, especially those who are not included in the senior management team, feel they don’t have the scope of authority to decide which projects to resource and which to defer or cancel. Involving stakeholders in the intake and prioritization process alleviates this possible roadblock to the success of the project.
The process doesn’t need to be overly formal to be effective. Ideally, it should occur at least annually in tandem with the budget planning process. In larger organizations with more staff, it should occur on a regular basis and be revised as circumstances change.
Establishing controls and oversight during project intake ensure:
Standardizing project intake is a first step in building the overall project portfolio management capabilities. Ensuring effective stakeholder communication at each stage of the process is vital. To do this, follow these steps:
Our partner, InfoTech Research Group, offer a framework to help prioritize projects. They recommend two types of criteria to be used in the prioritization process. Those that are highly valued (value) and those that are feasible (execution) are prioritized first.
These value criteria measure the importance, worth or usefulness of the project outcome to the association with strategic, operational, or financial value. Projects that are highly valued have a direct correlation to an objective in the strategic plan, drive revenue, impact members and external customers, and support organizational operations.
Execution criteria measure the ability of the project to be done easily. Projects that don’t require outside support, additional budget, or additional staff or skillsets mainly fall into this category. They are typically low risk.
Below is a list of criteria you can ask stakeholders to rate as your gather input. You can use some or all of them and assign them to a scoring rubric where some data points may be weighted.
These strategic alignment questions measure the “value” criteria. We suggest they should be heavily weighted in the scoring method.
These operational alignment questions measure the “value” criteria. We suggest they should not be weighted in the scoring method.
These feasibility questions measure the “execution” criteria. We suggest they should be slightly weighted in the scoring method.
These operational alignment questions measure the “value” criteria.
These financial alignment measure both the value and the execution criteria. We suggest they should be slightly weighted in the scoring method.
These measure both the execution criteria and the value criteria.
This value criterion for innovation may be added in associations where innovation is highly valued in the organization’s culture.
Urgency may be added as a value criterion when a distinct opportunity will be lost if not acted on.
The amount of time you have available to work on IT projects depends on the number of employees in your IT department and how much of their time is allocated to their core responsibilities.
Figuring out this number is critical for managing expectations. If staff think you have tons of time available to work on their projects, they understandably will get frustrated when their project is delayed or not scheduled.
To calculate this number, start with the number of IT staff and multiply by the work hours in the year. Then subtract hours spent on time off for vacation and holidays and subtract time spent in administrative work.
Administrative work includes time spent in non-project meetings, learning development activities, and any time spent fielding emails or managing your inbox. General "cost of being in the office" activities (e.g., water cooler conversations, peer mentoring) are often factored into the "Admin" category.
Next, subtract the hours spent in keep-the-lights-on (“KTLO”) activities. These are support and maintenance tasks such as the following:
Now, what is left? This number represents the number of hours left annually for IT staff to work on projects that are outside their regular job descriptions. It is critical for IT leadership to know this information. How much bandwidth is available to take on new work is key to managing expectations and getting additional resources approved.
By using this type of process, you will have learned which projects the organization prioritizes highest, what skill sets are required, and how many hours your team has available to work on those tasks. The result is the list of projects to be resourced and scheduled.
Budget time is a perfect time to gain input and share the prioritized list of projects that can be scheduled for the following year given the resources available. This timing allows the association to decide on resource and financial allocation, including decisions to use additional or outside resources to for project completion. It also makes it clear to users whose “pet project” was not selected to see what projects were selected instead and understand why.
Use the prioritized project list, with its resources and estimated level of effort identified to build out a project schedule. As new projects come to light during the year, use this list to help establish priority in comparison to other projects already identified.
Be mindful not to overload staff with too many projects at once. When possible, aim to plan project completions evenly throughout the year. Be sure to report back to stakeholders when projects are complete and ready for use.
If you would like assistance with this type of project, call us to schedule a guided implementation of the project prioritization process.