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09/06/2011

Planning In Uncertain Times: 5 Strategic Steps To Success

By Rob Prinzo

The end of August marks the end of summer vacation and the beginning of planning and budgeting season. One small problem: the economic sluggishness that was supposed to be behind us has reared its ugly head once again. With wild swings in the market, who can�t help but feel a bit skittish.

Nevertheless, you want to move your initiatives forward and you�ll undoubtedly be asked for your plan regardless of funding limitations. But how do you prioritize the list of projects that have accumulated over the last year, and develop a strategy to move forward in this economic environment?

Developing a strategy does not have to be a major event requiring an off-site retreat, consultants, breakout sessions and flip charts. The following is a simple five-step process that can be conducted in one to two sixty-minute sessions. The result will be an effective, prioritized plan for your projects. You may even surprise yourself and find that there are a number of initiatives that you can move forward without additional resources.

Step 1 >

Make a list of all your projects, big and small.

By developing a comprehensive list, you feel more organized (but perhaps temporarily overwhelmed).

Step 2 >

  • Categorize the projects in a spreadsheet using the following criteria:

  • Size (big or small)

  • Function (business process or technology)

  • Type (new project or part of existing operations)

  •  Funding required (yes or no)

  •  Level of effort (high, medium or low)

  • Resources (requires additional resources or can be absorbed by existing staff)

  • Organizational impact (high, medium or low)

Step 3 >

  • Determine which projects are depended on the following factors:

  • Other projects

  • Funding

  • Resources

  •  Business decisions

  • Highlight projects without dependencies and rate the team�s ability to influence the dependencies.

Step 4 >

Prioritize the projects based on the categories and dependencies, according to the following:

  • Low Hanging Fruit � Small projects with few or no dependencies that have an immediate impact and can be achieved with no additional resources. Examples include implementing existing systems functionality requested by end users, cleaning up customer lists, or developing new ways to analyze data to make better decisions.
     

  •  Intermediate Projects � Small- to medium-size projects that make a measurable impact with dependencies that can be influence by team. Consider breaking up long-term initiatives into smaller projects, or breakout the upfront requirements� definition into separate projects. Examples include rolling out additional system functionality, gathering business requirements, documenting processes, or evaluating vendors in preparation of a larger project that is inevitable but unlikely to happen this budget cycle due to the economy.
     

  • Long Term Initiatives � Medium- to large-size projects that have a significant impact, but have significant dependencies outside the influence of the projects team. Examples include business process transformation projects, new system implementations, or new strategic initiatives.

Step 5 >

Put it all together:

  •  Based on your categorized list, start by developing a plan to knock out the low hanging fruit. Hopefully, this will clear your plate of some nagging initiatives and make room for larger projects when funding is available.
     

  • If you are unable secure funding for inevitable long-term initiatives this year, try to get a head start by working on the intermediate projects that are considered pre-work for the long term initiatives. This strategy will prepare the organization for the larger projects, reduce the overall project timeframe for the bulk of the work, and spread the cost over a longer time period.
     

  •  If you are ready to move forward on the long term-initiatives, make sure that your requirements analysis is complete. Most project failures are attributed to poor upfront requirements analysis.

In reality you can't escape the inevitable, nor can you ignore the economic environment. However, having a realistic strategy developed through methodical planning will help keep your organization moving forward towards its long-term goals.

Rob Prinzo is founder and CEO of The Prinzo Group, an innovative knowledge firm that provides performance management expertise through project assurance solutions for enterprise transformation and technology projects, as well as performance measurement research, publications, workshops and training. His new book, No Wishing Required: The Business Case for Project Assurance, is available at nowishingrequired.com and Amazon.com.



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