Are Project Proposals a Foregone Conclusion?

Posted on September 15, 2011

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 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?

Intelligent Disobedience Leadership provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership through intelligent disobedience. We can help you and your teams design a community of practice which leverages constructive “intelligent disobedience.” For further information, email us at