First, Ask Why

Understanding The Reason Behind A Project Helps You Prioritize Its Value - By Ian Harvey, PMP

I used to have a line on my CV about delivering scope on time and within budget. I was very proud that I'd rigorously defended my projects against scope creep. But I was missing the point. The real reason organizations undertake projects is to achieve value.

Focusing on value delivery should always be at the front of project managers’ minds.

The agile movement intrinsically understands this—its core principles acknowledge that requirements will change as understanding grows. But even classic agile tools and concepts—like the burn up (or burn down) chart and the cone of uncertainty—are often scope-oriented.

To shift the emphasis, the most important question project managers should ask themselves about any project is not “What are we delivering?” but “Why are we doing this project?” The reason for the project could include increasing revenue or market share, reducing costs or meeting a regulatory mandate. When you understand the outcome your organization or client is seeking, you know where to direct your team and efforts.


One challenge with this “value-not-scope” approach is measuring success.

I recently worked on a project that had a goal to increase user engagement on a website. This would be measured by the number of users the site attracted on a monthly basis. However, this data would be gathered 18 months after the project was due to be completed. I wanted to make sure that the project was delivering value, not just scope, before that point.

Our project team settled on a few key measures. We assessed the quality of the website through continuous user research and tracked the results against projections. We defined goals for transaction times and measured those. We regularly assessed the product functionality against market leaders. We also relied heavily on web analytics to assess how users engaged with the website, in particular using A/B testing to compare how people interacted with new web pages compared to existing pages.

Defining and reporting against these measures was far more challenging than simply relying on scope, time and cost, but the process gave us much more confidence that we were delivering business value. This approach requires very rigorous thinking and a real understanding of what it takes to deliver success. In my experience, the ability to help define drivers of success is one of the skills that makes a project manager a great business partner.

Focusing on value delivery should always be at the front of project managers’ minds. Frankly, that's why we're here.

Ian Harvey, PMP, is senior director of program management at Elsevier, London, England.

Source: PM Network 01/2018 - 2018 JOBS REPORT

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