Blog » Measuring What Matters: How to Stop Wasting Time, Talent, and Resources on Projects that Don’t Go Anywhere

Measuring What Matters: How to Stop Wasting Time, Talent, and Resources on Projects that Don’t Go Anywhere

Remember the old adage, “what gets measured, gets done?”

Well, what does not get measured may still be getting done in your organization as well. Unfortunately, it may not be what you want done or what gets you to your destination.

In today’s volatile markets, goals set in January can easily become out of date by March if significant internal or external forces have impacted your operating environment. Just because a project was announced as a top priority in February doesn’t mean it will remain that way for the entire year. To ensure that employees retain clarity on what they should be working on, I recommend periodically conducting the “Plate Exercise.”

Three months after the strategic planning framework has been completed and communicated, review all significant ongoing projects and initiatives (what is on the plate). Then determine which ones should stay on the plate and which should fall off. This helps you make tough choices about what to start, stop and continue doing. It ensures that your limited resources get allocated to the highest-value activities. And it forces you to refocus on the right things.

To conduct the Plate Exercise, rank each major project or initiative according to its strategic value, understanding that your definition of strategic value will be unique to your organization.

For business initiatives (including product/service enhancements), rank each project according to its link to your core strategies:

  • Direct support of key strategy vs. indirect/no clear link to current strategy
  • Necessary for long-term growth vs. nice to have but not critical for ongoing growth
  • Necessary for short-term revenue capture vs. nice to have but not critical in short term
  • Clarity of project requirements (outputs, costs & revenue impact) vs. fuzzy project requirements
  • Known impact to revenue vs. unknown or unclear impact on revenue
  • Clear owner/sponsor vs. unclear owner/sponsor
  • Delay in project has immediate and significant revenue impact vs. delay in project has no immediate or significant revenue impact
  • Confirmed customer/consumer need vs. speculative customer/consumer need

Next, determine customer impact/satisfaction:

  • Transparent to customer vs. disruption/inconvenience to customer
  • Directly addresses immediate, high-impact customer issue vs. addresses longer-term customer concern

Then weigh prioritization considerations:

  • Annual operating plan is dependent on revenue production in near term vs. longer-term revenue impact
  • Critical to core business operations vs. important but not immediately necessary
  • Resources in place/project under way vs. new/additional resources required/project not started

This format can also be used to evaluate projects involving operational improvements or daily operations as well.

Another approach uses numeric or qualitative ratings, such as one through five, critical, important or unknown, or even a simple high, medium, and low rating. For example, using one of these rating methods, rank each initiative according to the impact it will have on achieving key strategic objectives, including:

  • Market penetration
  • Market share capture/retention
  • Customer acquisition/retention
  • Confirmed customer need is addressed
  • Direct support of a key strategy for current year
  • Necessity for long-term growth

Initiative will contribute directly to revenue, including:

  • Known timeframe
  • Known direct link between initiative and revenue
  • Delay in initiative will have significant revenue impact

Initiative will contribute directly to profit margin, including:

  • Known timeframe
  • Known direct link between initiative and revenue
  • Delay in initiative will have significant profit implications

You can also measure areas such as resource availability, talent constraints, and priority level. The key is to use scales/measurements that work in your organization and rate each project accordingly. Then decide if you have the resources to do them all well.

If you have enough resources, link each initiative or project to your strategies and make sure you’re making progress across all strategies. If sufficient resources are lacking, lower-value initiatives should be halted or abandoned.

Identifying projects that we need to shut down is the easy part. The hard part involves actually letting them go. Too often our thought bubbles get in the way by whispering things in our ear like, “We can’t stop now, we’ve invested too much time and money.” Or, “If we just stay the course, things will work out.” Or, “I’ll lose face with my peers if I admit defeat on this one.” Or, “Nobody told me this project wasn’t important anymore.” Be aware of your thought bubbles, and don’t let them stop you from doing what you know you should do.

When resources get stretched too thin from chasing too many opportunities, the highest value projects may not get the attention they need. Measuring what matters will keep your employees focused on the tasks and activities that give your organization the best chance of getting where you want to go.

Pause every now and then to evaluate what is on the plate and to take things off the plate. Today’s organizations are typically full of ideas and possibilities. It is often harder to decide what to stop doing. It is the focus on the right things that will contribute significantly to your success!


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