The Project Firing Squad

The “Firing Squad”

We’ve all seen the old cliché of “too many cooks in the kitchen” in action at some point in our careers, and chances are it appeared during the course of making a project-related decision. The most effective solution to this problem is limiting the number of people with a vote on a particular project, and making that group known well in advance of the actual selection or rejection of a project.

You need not create a tyrannical dictatorship, and input and commentary can and should be solicited from many people within the organization, but the final decision should fall to a small and defined group. This group should contain representatives from IT and the business, and preferably the C-level executives for all but the most mundane and routine projects.

The essence of this group is that it represent a cross-section of the corporation at large, not just IT and a few people outside IT with a vested interest in the project under discussion. In fact, the optimal “firing squad” equally represents each business unit of the company, since any project will take resources away from other business units’ potential projects. This group should also be a standing body familiar with the selection process, rather than an ad hoc committee thrown together at the last moment.

Make a Decision

When considering a potential project, the worst decision is always indecision. This may seem trite, considering there are always unknowns when deciding to move forward with a project or place it in the proverbial dustbin.

Whether it is external market factors, pending strategy changes, or Nostradamus’ latest predictions of an impending apocalypse, decision making in the corporate environment can be a difficult task. If your selection committee can not reach a conclusion, or hits a stalemate, the best alternative is to make a decision not to decide at this point.

How is this different from indecision? Indecision is a constant revisiting of the project under consideration, marked by waffling and repeated requests for more information and time for deliberation. A vote not to decide requires documenting the mitigating factors that are making the decision difficult, noting any changes in the internal or external environment influencing the decision one way or another, and selecting a timeframe in which to revisit the decision.

Once these items have been recorded, the project is shelved and no longer discussed; only being revisited after the selected timeframe has elapsed. If none of the factors or circumstances have changed, the project is eliminated from consideration or shelved for another defined timeframe.

As your organization perfects the art of the project firing squad, IT will grow to been seen as a reliable and fair arbitrator of projects. Guerrilla projects and “rogue” efforts by individual business units will gradually become a thing of the past, and the combined project portfolio will become greater than the sum of its constituent parts.

While the hard work of successfully completing these projects still lies ahead, you have stacked the decks in the organization’s favor by selecting projects relevant to the entire company, through a transparent and efficient process.

Patrick Gray is the founder and president of the Prevoyance Group, located in Harrison, NY. Prevoyance Group focuses on providing project performance consulting, which combines project management and process improvement to ensure large IT projects deliver organizational value. Past clients include Gillette, Pitney Bowes, OfficeMax and several other Fortune 500 and 1000 companies.