When you go to the doctor, you expect that she will use evidence and best practice when treating you. A doctor has a certain duty of care towards her patients.
It would be terrifying if doctors around the world just started making stuff up. I mean you’d run a mile from a doctor who said, “Got a flu? I reckon a few purple pills should do the job. I mean, they worked fine for Mrs Jones’ sciatica the other week!”
But that’s exactly what organizations (and PPM vendors) around the world do when running project prioritization. They make it up. They just put their thinking caps on and slap together a spreadsheet (or, even more scary, vendors slap together a module for their PPM tool).
Yet executives and managers have a duty of care every bit as binding as that of a doctor. They have a duty to use the organization’s resources efficiently in support of key organizational goals, but “making it up” has been standard practice for years.
Luckily, we now have real evidence-based research to tell us how things SHOULD be done.
This is going to be a pretty ruthless, hard-hitting blog. If you read this, you will never be able to say, “I didn’t know…” again. You have been warned.
Evidence-based vs. status quo
Academic research by the University of New South Wales1 into over 100 methods of running project prioritization came to a rather startling conclusion; only two of those methods are suitable.
And, unless you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ve probably never heard of them.
I’ll point you at the “answer” in a moment. First, let’s consider why many of you will be feeling rather uncomfortable with the finding.
The fact is that organizations have been picking portfolios for years. Some teams are more mature than others, but most are reasonably comfortable with their process. It feels good to make decisions the way you’ve always done just as it felt good to 18th century doctors to crack open a jar of leeches to treat a fever.
It’s what we’ve always done.
And it doesn’t really work.
Don’t get me wrong. You get a portfolio, but a “made up” process is unlikely to get you an optimal portfolio (in any real sense of the word).
On the other hand, using one of the “suitable processes” (they’re called AHP or DEA, by the way) means that you have a framework that is designed to deliver a good decision with strong buy-in and support from the whole organization, one that allows you to optimize your portfolio and that is based on data.
Now you know, it’s time to act
How would you feel if your doctor prescribed your child a drug to treat a potentially fatal disease – a drug that evidence showed was less effective than the traditional drug – just because it’s what she’d always done?
You wouldn’t stand for it, would you.
So, now you know. Research has shown AHP and DEA to be the most suitable methods for project prioritization. Can you, in all conscience, ignore this new-found wisdom?
So, where should you start?
I can point you at resources to learn about the analytic hierarchy process (to give AHP its full name). I’m such a big fan, in fact, that we built our project prioritization product around AHP.
I can point you at resources that describe how project success rates are strongly influenced by the project prioritization process.
I can even point you to lists of symptoms of a “broken” project prioritization process.
But only you can decide to engage with those resources and then act.
But you can no longer pretend that you don’t know. And in medical circles, failing to treat patients properly when there exists “established best practice” has a name. It’s called malpractice.
1 Danesh*, Ryan and Abbasi (2017), School of Engineering and Information Technology, University of New South Wales