Are Project Proposals a Foregone Conclusion?

The process is regularly repeated in large as well as small businesses – an idea is generated from a middle or senior manager, a project proposal, project charter or other initiation document is created; it is evaluated, approved and a project is started. Although this may appear to be a reasonable process in the spirit of PMBoK or PRINCE2, in most cases it is a nearly useless foregone conclusion. Yes, in some cases creating project proposal deliverables do provide a useful documented overview of the project and its business objectives. However, the other primary purpose of the initiation documentation is to evaluate whether the project idea is a sound one that should be pursued. But if a senior manager instructs the initiation document to be created, and then the same senior manager provides signoff on the proposal, isn’t the idea of an objective review of a potential project thrown out the window?

Theoretically, a set of project review criteria or portfolio management processes would address the lack of objectivity discussed above. Unfortunately, most organisations do not have that type of rigor in place. So what is a diligent project manager to do?

In the true spirit of acting with intelligent disobedience…propose your own criteria. It is not suggested that the criteria be created in response to a given project proposal; that would probably not be received well by senior management. Propose the project viability criteria when there is not a project in the proposal stage; that way the discussion will be more objective. What to include in such criteria? Focus on the financial items typically discussed in your organisation; cost to benefit ratios, resource requirements (dollars and people), payback period and profit margins are typical items.

Do this well, and you can weed out some projects that distract from the success of the business and your personal productivity as well.

Do you understand what criteria would be used to filter out projects in your organisation? How would you go about proposing a set of validation criteria in your organisation?

Note: If you or your organisation requires assistance with project evaluation and portfolio management check out our project governance and portfolio management offerings at or, or e-mail us at and we can arrange a presentation for you and your team on how to increase your efficiency and improve your resource utilization through governance and portfolio management.

Your Primary Accountability – To The Project Sponsor?

Whether you call them key stakeholders, primary stakeholders or some other term, it is likely that every project manager labels at least one person as ‘the person to please’ when delivering a project. During the life-cycle of a project, stakeholders come and go, however the ’person to please’ is ever-present. By default, it is the sponsor. As the sponsor is footing the bill and (theoretically) is the primary beneficiary of project delivery, this is reasonable. But should the project manager always behave as if the sponsor is the primary stakeholder? Depending on the project and the mindset of the sponsor, that might not be the optimal way to accomplish the project.

>A frequent circumstance of today’s business climate is that skills are critically short, and the skilled business experts and technical team members have a tremendous number of demands placed upon them. Your project is just one more on the stack. Treating these vital resources in the best possible manner can be crucial to successful project delivery. Sometimes, these vital resources should be treated as your primary stakeholder(s).

This is not a suggestion that you ignore the sponsor; he should always be front of mind. However, when the sponsor is content and fulfilling their role appropriately, it may be time to consider other primary stakeholders for the project manager’s everyday attention.

Are you treating the right person(s) as the primary stakeholder, or are you treating the sponsor as the primary stakeholder by default? Could you improve your project status by shifting your attention to different ‘primary stakeholders?’

Note: If you or your organisation requires assistance with improving stakeholder management (via traditional or non-traditional methods) check out our consulting and education offerings at or, or e-mail us at and we can arrange a presentation for you and your team to discuss this perception enhancing management technique.