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Justifying Projects

business professionals collaborating

To provide context, let’s define a project as it relates to this post: A project is a complex issue, with a defined set of goals, that requires a leader to influence and motivate others, implement strategy, inspect progress, and ensure execution.

The vision for an organization creates an overarching project that cascades into sub-projects and supporting goals, which in turn creates a series of cascading projects, nested all the way down. The need for justification and prioritization is critical at every level.

Project and sub-project workflow diagram
Project and Sub-project Workflow Diagram

All projects (starting with the highest-level vision) require justification; like creating organizational culture, plans don’t ‘just happen’ – leadership must establish guiding principles, values, and smart goals.

The following are tips we recommend for justifying and prioritizing projects:
  1. Challenge, challenge, challenge. Leaders should vigorously challenge their strategy and vision during the planning process. The higher level the leader is, the less likely they will be challenged by others; therefore, understand that it is ok to push yourself when planning. Then ask your peer group to tug on your vision a bit more. It’s all about developing a laser-focused justification for upcoming projects that will consume an enormous amount of time and impact many (if not all) in the organization.
  2. While assisting others in their justification process, ensure that they have walked through tip number one by asking the following questions:
    a. Why in the heck should we do this?
    b. Is it supported by our overall vision and objectives?
    c. What will our measurable(s) be?
    d. If successful, will the results be material?
    e. What happens if the project fails? (This should be the last question because the answer(s) will validate the justification).
  3. Rank projects by measurables and the impact the outcome will make.
  4. No one should have more than three to five direct projects at any given time. Excess should be kicked down the list or deleted (if they are essential, they will resurface).
  5. If there are more projects than leadership can juggle, change an input. Either the team and investment should grow, or the priorities need to shrink back to a manageable level. The key is to justify the projects first. If there are indeed more tasks than the team can manage, and they are all justified, then it’s time to invest in people and resources to grow the organization.