Organizations everywhere are getting ready for the new year. This excitement causes an influx of project initiatives that, if approved, will fill up the project pipeline. The only problem is that your project pipeline might not be empty. Over the course of this year, your organization may have developed and approved dozens of initiatives that are already sitting in the project pipeline to be scheduled. With the new year approaching, so many people are looking forward, but it’s also important to look back at the work still waiting to begin. Before you get too far into planning for the next year, take the time to clean up your project pipeline.
Why You Need to Clean Up Your Project Pipeline
Humans have a habit of collecting things. Just look around your office or your home. How much stuff have you accumulated over the years? The same phenomenon that keeps your garage packed with items you haven’t touched in years happens to project pipelines. Over time, the pipeline for your organization’s project portfolio (or the backlog for your product development if you’re working Agile) can collect dozens of projects that sit around waiting to be scheduled. However, unlike your garage, reducing the amount of “stuff” in your pipeline can be a bit more difficult. Organizations often have many untouched projects in their pipeline because it can be challenging for decision-makers to measure the workload of all the projects they’ve approved. For organizations with silos, each silo can continually add projects and exasperate the problem.
But before we get too carried away here, I’d like to clarify that having many projects isn’t inherently bad. The problem is that oftentimes having a large number of projects means we’re not working on the right things or by the time we do get around to do a project, it doesn’t make sense anymore. Projects basically come with an expiration date. They’re meant to accomplish a goal under specific circumstances. But organizations are constantly changing and evolving, so if projects are not initiated within a certain time period, they might not do any good.
Regularly reviewing the project pipeline is like going through your refrigerator and throwing out any condiment past the expiration date. We should do this regularly, maybe once or twice a year to keep the freshest food available. If you’re ready to check the expiration date on your projects and clean up your project pipeline, we recommend following these steps.
Step 1: Take Account of All Projects
Hopefully your organization has one location for projects in the pipeline. If not, you’ll need to consolidate a list of projects. How you choose to organize your list is up to you. It might be helpful to sort projects by the date they were added to the pipeline, list them in order of priority or group them by department or business unit.
Step 2: Take Account of Corporate Goals
Before you start cutting projects out of the pipeline, you’ll want to remind yourself of your organization’s current goals and strategic objectives. This is going to be crucial in identifying which projects are no longer relevant in your pipeline. Projects may have been added to the pipeline at a time when your organization focused its attention elsewhere, so keeping current objectives top of mind is necessary for evaluating projects.
Step 3: Take Account of Capacity
Organizations are undergoing massive changes to their workforces and it’s not just fluctuations in the number of workers. An increasing number of organizations are working to become more flexible and adaptable to changing market and business conditions. A consequence of this is that many organizations are partially or completely pivoting on the goods and services they provide. To do this, they’re changing the types of skills they need in their workforce. Compiling a list of the number of employees, their roles and their skills may require a little more work than the first two steps, but your organization’s current capacity is a crucial piece in determining if a project is still feasible. You don’t have to account for capacity down to the very last intern for this step. If your organization has a lot of workers, it’s fine to work with estimates of roles and skills.
Step 4: Put Projects to the Test
The first three steps give you the right context to reevaluate projects. There are many methods to determine whether or not a project is still relevant and belongs in the pipeline, but at the heart of all these methods is a few basic questions. When you’re cleaning up your pipeline, consider each of these questions for every project:
1. Is this a project that must be done?
Regulatory or client projects are non-negotiable. Any project that is required for your organization belongs in the pipeline (and shouldn’t sit too long!).
2. How long has this project been sitting untouched?
If a project has been sitting in the pipeline for a year and half, is it really a priority for your business? It’s likely it keeps getting passed up by other important and high-impact projects. If this is the case, the project really might not belong in your pipeline.
3. What goal or corporate initiative does this project support?
This question will weed out irrelevant projects real fast. If a project doesn’t support a current corporate goal or objective, it shouldn’t be in your pipeline (unless it’s required such as a regulatory or client project).
4. Has the risk level, resource requirements or costs changed since this project was approved?
If there are any substantial changes regarding the needs for the successful execution of a project, the project needs to be reevaluated to make sure it’s still something the organization wants to commit to.
5. Is the project still feasible with the organization’s current capacity?
If the workforce in your organization has changed dramatically, you may no longer have the capacity to deliver on the project. If this is the case, your decision-makers might want to reevaluate the project to determine if this project is crucial (and acquire additional resources to support it) or if the project can be removed from the pipeline.
Not Ready to Part from Your Projects? Try a Storage Space
If you’re trying to clean out the project pipeline but just can’t quite let projects go, consider creating a storage space. This is a list of projects that don’t belong in your organization’s current project pipeline but may belong there in the future. You can revisit this list once or twice a year and determine if projects need to be moved in or out.
Keep Priorities and Projects Clear with the Right Tool
When organizations struggle with transparency and obtaining a bird’s eye view of the project portfolio, projects are likely to pile up until there is an unsustainable and unattainable amount of work. However, when organizations use the right tools, they can keep their project pipeline clean and their project portfolio healthy. In fact, a constantly overloaded pipeline is probably an indication that your project portfolio management tool (or the spreadsheets you’re using for PPM) isn’t working. The right tool helps you evaluate projects objectively, get an overview of the project portfolio and pipeline and keep your organization moving forward.