If – like many of us – you are a consultant, you’ll be used to working on projects. In fact, you’ll be accustomed to working on projects all the time. You will also have seen that when working on customer projects, the client will at the same time be undertaking many other projects. Some may be unrelated to the work you are doing, some may be dependent on it, or in some cases your project may be dependent on the outcomes of other projects (which is not always a great position to be in).

Before we continue, let us take a stab at defining exactly what a project is. A succinct definition would be ‘a set of related activities that are performed to achieve a once-off outcome over a specific or limited amount of time’.

Do the projects you work on or come across on a daily basis, stack up to this definition? Does it seem that many organisations seem to do projects, just for the sake of doing projects? Or in other words, have projects become business as usual?

Any project should be preceded by a business case that clearly maps out the following,

  • The opportunity, problem or issue at hand
  • The solution to this problem or the actions needed to leverage this opportunity
  • The benefits of the solution or actions
  • The costs of the solution or actions
  • The alignment of the proposed project to the organisation’s strategic objectives

This way an organisation’s management can make informed decisions about which projects should be executed and which should not. It should also be noted that a business case must be a living document and the merits of the project underway should be reviewed regularly – what made business sense when the project was initiated may no longer make sense.

Project portfolios should also be actively managed as there are a limited amount of projects that an organisation can effectively execute and deliver at any given time. There is also a certain amount of projects required to deliver initiatives that support both the operation and strategic objectives of the organisation. Balancing these two is the challenge and in addition to this balancing act, opportunity cost plays a part.

Certain projects that may be delivering value in the form of increased revenues or cost efficiencies will at the same time be consuming organisational resources that could be released to other projects, which could potentially be delivering greater value to the organisation than the current project(s).

In summary then, the message is clear. We need strong and up to date business cases and robust project portfolio management. Sadly this is lacking in many organisations. Projects are often ill-conceived and are not supported by a strong business case or strategic alignment. While some of these projects are sometimes the ‘pets’ of individuals wanting to build empires, or hoping to leave some sort of legacy, many of them are a result of the organisation not being able to distinguish between projects and business as usual.

It is therefore important that organisations take note of the old economic adage; satisfying unlimited needs with limited resources. They should start by rationalising their project portfolio and understanding which projects to keep doing, which to stop doing, and which to start doing.