According to research, 70% of organizations have suffered at least one project failure in the prior 12 months. Over the years we’ve talked to many people who managed these projects to better understand their needs and what could have helped them succeed. Most have counted on traditional project management software to align their projects and teams, but they have consistently attributed four common problems to their failure: resources, visibility, alignment of priorities, and scheduling issues. Over the next month, we’ll be double clicking on each of the problems and the ramifications they have on organizations. WARNING: Unless you are already using LiquidPlanner, some of these problems may hit a little too close to home.
These days companies need to be more flexible than ever, ready to adapt in fast-paced environments and seize new opportunities. Research shows that there’s a clear relationship between adaptability and strategic performance: 86% of high performing organizations consider themselves adaptable, compared to less than half of low performing businesses. We all know that coping with changing priorities is part of doing business, but few teams feel equipped to handle it. In fact, one of the most common things we’ve heard from project managers is “we can’t react quickly enough when priorities change.”
Project prioritization is about focus—where to allocate team members and when to start the work. It enables the governance team to navigate critical resource constraints and make the best use of employees and company resources. We asked project managers all over the world what their top project management prioritization issues were and here’s what they said.
What are your most common prioritization problems?
1. People are not working on priority projects and efficiencies are lacking.
Higher priority projects need the right resources dedicated to completing the work on time and on quality. Team members that work on multiple projects need to understand where to focus their time and to feel confident in not executing lower priority work until the most important work gets done.
When competing demands require individuals to make choices about where to spend their time, the relative priorities need to be obvious so that high-value work is not slowed down due to resources working on lower-value work. It’s too easy to shift into work for the loudest stakeholder or the most interesting project, even when it isn’t the top priority for the company. Productivity will quickly erode if misalignment of the priorities sets in. You have to be sure that the right people are working on the most important projects in order to deliver maximum value within existing capacity constraints.
2. We have multiple projects in flight with shared or competing resources.
We’ve all worked in organizations where resource bartering is the norm. Oftentimes, this results in the person with the biggest title trading team members back and forth, diverting people from projects that may be more important to the organizational goals.
Allocating people on a whim without analyzing incoming demands, understanding the priorities, or considering the organization’s goals can be dangerous. According to McKinsey, only 52% of executives say their employees’ time allocation matches company priorities. When you don’t have a priority-based culture, it’s hard to protect resources or have smart conversations about where time should be spent. It’s important to know that you can’t start lower priority projects when you have critical path team members on higher priority projects.
3. We don’t know how to allocate resources for unplanned requests or unforeseen challenges.
New projects pop up all the time; some will align to the organization’s goals and others will not. When managing complex projects, unexpected issues will also inevitably arise. Even with the most efficient planning, new requests and unforeseen challenges will always emerge and present challenges.
The more disciplined your process is for identifying and managing risks, the better prepared your team will be to adapt to change. Rather than reacting sporadically to quickly spread or redeploy resources, it is essential to first understand emerging requests and invest to create a proactive response using priority-based management. Building best case/worst case estimates into your schedules from the beginning will help you avoid much of this rework as ranged estimation provides the cushion your team needs to navigate through uncertainty.
4. My project is going sideways because schedules are unrealistic and people aren’t aligned.
Project managers need to see risk right away – the moment scope increases or new priorities are added to the portfolio – and have instant visibility to how it impacts their project. Without factoring in potential risks, you’re bound to have an unrealistic schedule.
Be sure to set attainable deadlines during each stage of the project and check in with your team as the project progresses and they learn more. By placing realistic time frames, making sure project teams aren’t overloaded, and proactively communicating risks, you will ensure alignment and add an element of accountability with your team members and your stakeholders.
5. We can’t decide between competing business opportunities. In fact, we don’t know what projects take priority.
Ever work for a company where everything is priority 1? Then you know that even if the execs want everything to be urgent and to get done right away, it’s just not sustainable. Companies that know their priorities – and ensure that everyone in the business knows those priorities – have a new competitive advantage.
It’s common sense that your team should be working on the priority projects, but too often, those aren’t identified. People end up working on whichever project is on their desk at that moment. And project managers are left pulling out their hair trying to secure commitment for the latest initiative. You need a smart way to align people, priorities and projects so the experts on your team are always working on the right thing. And when priorities shift – as they often do – project managers need to be able to quickly identify the impact on their entire portfolio.
6. We don’t know how to sequence the work to get everything done.
Not all projects can be initiated immediately. When resources are not available to staff all of the approved projects, lower priority projects have to wait until enough people are freed up to begin the work. Understanding relative priorities can help direct the timing and sequencing of projects.
In some cases, high priority projects may have other dependencies or resource constraints that require a start date in the future. In other cases, lower priority projects get pushed out into the future. Project management prioritization will help you know where to assign resources and when your team can start the work.
Why addressing project management prioritization issues is so important?
The short answer is that prioritization increases the success rates of strategic projects, increases the alignment and focus of senior management teams around strategic goals, and clears all doubts for the operational teams when faced with decisions. Most importantly, having the right tools and process for prioritization builds an execution mindset and culture.
LiquidPlanner is a transformative project management solution that uses predictive scheduling to dynamically adapt to change and manage uncertainty. It helps teams prioritize, predict and perform with confidence. Rated the best software for complex projects by PC Magazine.
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