Regardless of the size, niche or structure of your small business, you need to consider the overall strategic impact of each individual project that you tackle, rather than selecting and initiating them on a department-by-department basis. No business has unlimited resources, and you’re not going to be able to sustain a system where any department is free to deem their project as a top priority. Fortunately, there are a few proven strategies for prioritizing and evaluating projects. Here are steps to consider applying at your business.
Have a bigger role in strategic level planning
The first step to more effectively set priorities at your business should be getting more involved with your strategic-level planning. Organize a meeting with your heads of departments, and try to gain a keener understanding of the current direction of the business, the planned timing, and the overall vision you’re working towards. There’s no such thing as too much detail when it comes to strategic planning, so if you don’t clear everything up in those first sessions, don’t worry about leaving some things open-ended and picking it up at a later date. It may eat into time for ongoing projects, but making these kinds of meetings the routine will give you valuable insights, and help guide your decision making and prioritization in the future.
The next important step you need to take is discussing the various outcomes of the projects your heads of departments want to pursue, and then quantifying them to determine the overall value. When you have a keener understanding of the immediate and long-term impact of different projects, it will become so much easier to determine which tasks should take priority.
You should also determine the risk of not carrying out certain projects. For example, if your head of IT is pitching a case for a better data centre cooling system, and they can produce metrics showing that you’re bleeding capital through server downtime, other projects may have to be put on hold until this is underway. Even more importantly, consider projects that will keep the business in step with various tax, legal or legislative requirements. Once you have your heads of departments quantifying the strategic value of their projects, it will become much easier to see which ones should take priority.
Determine what’s going to affect project success
After you’ve become more directly involved in the strategic planning and determined the potential value of each individual project, you need to start thinking about additional factors that could impact the success of your projects. The return on investment is always a big one, along with the company’s available resources, budgeted funds, scheduling, and any kind of limitations or dependencies. Due to company budgets and scheduling always being limited, it isn’t going to be possible for you to tackle all of the proposed projects. One project that has been brought to the table might depend on the success of another, or there may be other factors outside of your control that will cause delays. Methodically going through these factors will also be important for prioritization.
Remember that taking these steps is not a one-time activity. You should periodically review project priorities to make sure you’re always putting the right activities at the top of your small business to-do list.