Project Completion: The Value of Getting Projects Done, Not Just Started


In a webinar with Johanna Rothman (author of loads of books on project management, program management, portfolio management and, I suspect, other things beginning with “P” that need managing!), she made the point that it’s not important how many projects you start. What’s important is how many you finish and that they deliver business value. So, if you only score points for finished projects, let’s figure out how to get more points on the board!

get points for finishing projects not starting them

Webinar: Rationalize the Work in Your Organization

This webinar is centered around the critical aspect of project completion and its significance in adding business value. Johanna Rothman, an acclaimed author and expert in project management, delves into intelligent portfolio management and practical strategies to ensure that projects are not just initiated, but also successfully completed.

Below, you can access the full webinar, as well as find a succinct overview of the key takeaways that will equip you with insights and actionable steps to enhance your project management endeavors.

Why Projects Fail?

There are all kinds of reasons, of course, but at a high level you could probably fit them into three categories:

1. They are the wrong projects, which means:

  • Loss of Executive Sponsorship: Projects may not align with organizational goals, leading to the withdrawal of executive support.
  • Project Becomes Obsolete: Market conditions or organizational priorities may change, rendering the project obsolete before completion.
  • Inadequate Hand-off to Business: Even if completed, there's no well-defined integration with the rest of the business.
  • Failure to Deliver Business Value: The project does not meet the business needs or expected returns, possibly due to not focusing on minimum marketable features.
  • Lack of Regular Portfolio Evaluation: As discussed in the webinar, the portfolio should be evaluated frequently (e.g., quarterly) to ensure alignment with organizational goals and market demands.

2. You get your resourcing wrong, which means:

  • Multitasking: Engaging key resources in multiple projects at the same time, leading to productivity loss and inefficiency. The webinar emphasized the negative impact of multitasking and task switching.
  • Overburdening Key Resources: Resources are stretched thin across too many projects, leading to burnout and reduced quality of work.
  • Lack of Adequate Planning: Without proper resource planning (rolling wave planning, as mentioned in the webinar), teams may be trying to deliver too many things at once and failing to meet objectives.
  • Lack of Team Focus: Teams should ideally work on one project at a time to ensure efficiency and quality. The webinar stressed the importance of focusing on completion over starting multiple projects.

3. Your processes and governance are weak, which means:

  • Patchy Implementation: Inconsistent application of project management methodologies or frameworks.
  • Lack of Visibility into Issues: Not having a clear view of the project status and emerging issues until it’s too late.
  • Inadequate Decision-Making Process: Inability to make informed decisions to rectify problems, possibly due to a lack of transparency discussed in the webinar.
  • Failure to Terminate Non-viable Projects: Inability to make the tough decision to kill projects that are no longer viable or aligned with business goals.
  • Scope Creep: This is often a sign of poor governance and lack of clarity on project objectives. It is important to have a clear understanding and agreement on what the project is about.

Occasionally a project will fail because of simple poor execution, but my gut tells me that most of those failures actually have their roots in the three categories above. For example, “scope creep” can be viewed as an execution failure, but really it’s about lack of clarity around what the project is about and about poor governance.

So, if these are the root-causes of failure…

What Can We Do to Fix It?

Active portfolio management is central to resolving many issues leading to project failure. Here are concrete steps, backed by insights from Johanna Rothman's webinar, that organizations can take:

1. Strategically Select the Right Projects

  • Use Data-Driven Decision Making: Utilize tools like the Analytic Hierarchy Process to build consensus among key stakeholders on organizational goals and use those as criteria for selecting projects.
  • Align Projects with Business Goals: Ensure that selected projects align with the organization’s strategic objectives and bring value.
  • Value-Driven Backlog Prioritization: As mentioned in the webinar, prioritize the projects based on value delivery to ensure that the most valuable projects are executed first.

2. Optimize Resource Utilization

  • Avoid Multitasking: Encourage teams to single-task by concentrating on one project at a time. This enhances efficiency and productivity. Johanna Rothman highlighted the adverse effects of multitasking during her webinar.
  • Balance Workloads: It's imperative to allocate resources based on actual availability and realistic capacity. Sometimes, this means making tough decisions and saying “no” or “not now” to certain projects. Properly balancing workloads enables teams to accomplish more in less time with the available resources.
  • Leverage Resource Optimization Tools: Utilize advanced tools that facilitate resource optimization through iterative algorithms, leading to a more efficient project delivery schedule.

This concept is centered around ensuring that teams are focused and not overwhelmed, which consequently leads to increased productivity and successful project completion. This approach is endorsed by not just Johanna Rothman but also Mike Hannan, another acclaimed author, speaker, and project management consultant. Their shared insights in their respective webinars offer a compelling reason to take this approach seriously.

The deep insights provided in Mike’s and Johanna’s webinars are invaluable for any project manager looking to optimize resource utilization.

3. Regularly Review and Adjust the Project Portfolio

  • Periodic Portfolio Reviews: Conduct regular reviews of the project portfolio, preferably monthly. This is in line with Johanna’s emphasis on rolling wave planning.
  • Adapt to Change: Be prepared to make adjustments to projects, resources, and schedules based on new information or changes in the business environment.
  • Effective Portfolio Governance: Establish a governance process that not just collects status updates, but can turn data into actionable insights.

4. Empower Decision-Making with Transparency and Tools

  • Enable Clear Communication: Ensure there is open and transparent communication among all stakeholders, as Johanna mentioned, this fosters an environment where better decisions can be made.
  • Utilize Effective Tools: Use project portfolio management (PPM) tools that allow for active portfolio governance. Find tools that don’t just collect data but help turn it into actionable insights.

5. Focus on Delivering Value

  • Minimum Marketable Features: Focus on delivering the smallest set of features that deliver business value, as Johanna emphasized in the webinar.
  • Measure Success by Value Delivered: Move away from measuring success by the number of started projects and instead focus on the value delivered to the business through completed projects.


By investing in active portfolio management and focusing on value delivery, organizations can substantially increase the likelihood of project success. This involves strategic project selection, resource optimization, regular portfolio reviews, transparent decision-making, and a relentless focus on value. Let's aim for quality and value in our projects to maximize the points on the board!

Webinar Transcript Summary

Part 1: Introduction to Project Portfolio Management

This part introduces the concept of project portfolio management and emphasizes its importance in achieving organizational objectives. Johanna Rothman talks about how organizations are often bogged down by too many projects, leading to multitasking, which is inefficient. She introduces the idea of project portfolio management as a solution to manage the projects and resources effectively.

Key Points:

Part 2: Strategic Perspective and Tactical View of Portfolio Management

In this part, Johanna Rothman emphasizes the importance of viewing the project portfolio both from a strategic and a tactical perspective. Strategic viewing ensures that the projects align with the larger organizational goals, while the tactical view ensures that the resources at the team level are being utilized effectively. It also touches upon the challenges with having people on multiple teams.

Key Points:
  • Project portfolio management should include both strategic and tactical views.
  • The strategic view ensures alignment with organizational goals.
  • The tactical view focuses on resource allocation at the team level.
  • Having people on multiple teams can be a challenge due to multitasking.

Part 3: Optimizing Resources and Avoiding Multitasking

This part delves into resource optimization and the detrimental effects of multitasking. It discusses the importance of scheduling and planning resources effectively to avoid overloading. An example of simple habits change, like reordering tasks, to increase productivity is given. Johanna also mentions a new product that ties together project prioritization and resource management.

Key Points:
  • Effective scheduling and planning are critical for resource optimization.
  • Multitasking and frequent switching between tasks can significantly decrease productivity.
  • Even simple changes in the way tasks are ordered can lead to improved efficiency.
  • New tools are emerging that help in tying together project prioritization and resource management.

Part 4: Transparency, Decision Making, and Wrapping Up

The final part highlights the importance of transparency in project portfolio management. Transparency aids in decision-making and provides insights into what teams are working on. The section emphasizes the importance of completing projects, not just starting them. The webinar concludes with Johanna Rothman introducing her work and inviting viewers to connect with her.

Key Points:
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