How to choose the best ideas

You have put together your strategic plan. You have many good ideas to help you achieve your goals. You made sure your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. But the problem is that there is no way you can do them all. You just don’t have enough time, money or resources. So how do you choose which ones to do?

For this one I am going to lean on a very good source, maybe the best source, on how to pick and choose the best project to work on. That source is the Standard for Portfolio Management that is published by the Project Management Institute. I would encourage you to purchase this standard and study it.

Now I am not going to repeat the contents of the standard here of course. However I will derive inspiration from it in this article to help guide you towards making good choices between the various ideas that have been put forward to deliver your strategic plan and vision. We will go step by step to ensure we make the optimum mix of ideas and projects to work on.

Name & describe your idea. This is important for the conversation. Make sure each idea or proposed project has a clear name that is descriptive. Don’t have ambiguous names that would confuse. It is ok to use a serial number for each idea. That may help if you are uploading the information into a database. But make sure that you still have a descriptive name. There is nothing more frustrating to people then trying to remember what the difference is between project AB123 and XY456. It is much easier to have “Operating System Upgrade” or “Installation of Service Area Network”.

Create idea groups. You need to put your ideas in “buckets” where they kind of belong together. I say “kind of” because sometimes there is some overlap between ideas and it may not be very easy to do that. Nevertheless this is a useful exercise for later on when you need to pick and choose and prioritize.

You want ideas that are interrelated sitting together. Be careful not to use the obvious groupings of “accounting”, “legal” and so on. That is a common mistake. While all ideas related to the accounting department may be related by ownership they may not be by purpose. If for example you were setting up a new credit granting service in your company for small businesses, you will have several ideas or projects under that umbrella that impact a number of departments. You may have the finance department do a credit facility policy project, accounting department to set up a new credit accounting system with training, customer service department to train representatives on fielding credit-related calls and to upgrade the inbound phone system, sales to be trained and to incorporate credit facilities into their offerings and information technology department to set up the various required systems.

All those separate related project ideas are tightly related and would therefore sit in the same bucket or group. You have a lot of flexibility in how you want to set up your groups and each company might find one way or another more effective.

Score your ideas. Scoring is likely your best bet for comparing the value of ideas. Create a list of criteria for example a) how well does this idea contribute to customer acquisition b) how well does this idea contribute to customer retention c) how well does this idea enhance our reputation and so on. For each of those criteria you can have a good, better, best scale with scores of 1,2 or 3 for each proposed project or idea . The criteria itself should have a weighting. For example you might decide that contribution to customer acquisition is very high this year and give it a weighting of say 10 whereas the enhancement to reputation is only half as important so you give it a value of 5. Other good criteria to add is “how urgent is this needed: within 18 months = good, 12 months = better, less than 12 months = best”. This will help when you come to prioritize your ideas. Also don’t forget to put a ball park number for the potential cost of implementing the idea. I would use something similar to time such as: $200,000 to $300,000 = good, $100,000 to $200,000 = better, lower than $100,000 = best. This assumes that the cheaper the project the more appealing it is. Of course the actual dollar numbers you will put in there will depend on the size of your company and budget.

Pick good candidates. Now that you have scored your ideas, pick a few that you find promising. The scores will give you a good indication of which of the proposed ideas are the best candidates. But also use common sense and good judgement. Best to have a team of people to review and pick the candidates. Make sure that different departments and interests in your company are represented. Don’t be put off by how many ideas become good candidates. This step is necessary. You know that you will have to prune the list of ideas down because very likely you will not be able to do them all. That will be your next step.

Prioritize your ideas. Now that you have a list of potential ideas for projects, you need to prioritize because very likely you will not have the money, time and resources to do them all. The scoring will give you a good idea of which ideas should be the highest priority. Some ideas may be compulsory such as those imposed by law for example. You may have to comply with those whatever the score may be. You will still need to list those ideas obviously because they will still consume your time, money and resources. For example you may have to build ramps at your office building to accommodate disabled visitors who use wheelchairs or fix the office building roof because if might cave in. These are projects that must be done because of legal, regulatory or safety requirements. Make sure you give each idea a rank with the highest priority at the top.

Even out your selection. You know you cannot do everything so pick a package of ideas. Look at the ideas with the highest priority. Also try to leave some room for contributions towards being a good corporate citizen. You or your company may like to contribute to saving the whales or fighting cancer. Or maybe a project for this year’s office New Year’s party at a mountain resort. These are still projects that would consume resources and would have to be added to the pot. A good mix in consultation with other stakeholders will create good morale without straying away from the most important activities of the business. Make sure when you’re evening things out that you don’t remove a project that is part of a bundle that will deliver a common capability. For instance you can’t leave out upgrading the finance department’s credit management system if you are going to pick the idea of offering credit to customers in the sales department.

 

Once you have completed the above exercise you will have a pool of potential projects that can now proceed. This does not mean that this pool cannot change. Obviously new ideas can be proposed at any time. It is better to have a formal time to submit ideas so that you can manage this process more efficiently. However you will realize that ideas can come up at any time as events unfold. There may be some news that provoke a new perceived threat or an opportunity out there that could trigger a series of ideas.

As these new ideas come in they should go through the same process laid down above. When you get to the point where you have to even out the final pot of ideas, you may find that some ideas have to be removed and others added because as you know you cannot do them all given limited resources, money and time. That is where judgement and consultation with stakeholders will come into play. Make sure everyone is aware of changes made to this pot of ideas. Nothing is worse in a company than being kept in the dark. People work better when they know where they are all going.

Once you have the pot finalized you will have your starting point to implement your ideas.

Hope you found this useful.

Muneer

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