How to evaluate ideas for new technology projects
When you work in a busy IT department or Project Management Office, you tend to get a lot of requests for IT change, and working out which ideas to pursue and which ones to leave at the door can be very challenging, particularly when you are not the decision-maker, but the service provider. Here are some guidelines on how to evaluate ideas for new IT projects:
1) Governance, governance, governance
Regardless of the process you have in place, whether it is a sophisticated system that supports extensive evaluation or a 3-steps checklist, that process is worthless if you don’t have good governance driving it. Good governance means there is clarity about ownership and decision-making; in other words, the new idea has an owner who will see it through from start to finish, and people who will be able to make decisions about it and support its execution.
2) Is it a project?
Obvious question, but not always an obvious answer. People can actually get lost in endless debates about whether a request should be treated as a new project, or if it is “business as usual” and should be handled as part of on-going support operations. The reality is that in most cases, common sense will prevail; if someone asks for a new website, it pretty much sounds like a new project, but if they ask to have a page added to an existing website, it’s most likely doable as a change request. There are a few cases that fall in the middle; for example if you were going to add e-commerce capability to your existing website, depending on the size of the organisation, the level of functionality required and the magnitude of the work, it could be one of the two. It’s good practice to put guidelines in place; for example it could be a specific level of effort or investment required (e.g. anything that takes more than x days or x $ is a project). The important thing is that these guidelines should be adapted to your organisation and reflect its capacity in undertaking IT change. And you don’t need to cater for every exception that may come up; this an instance where good governance comes into play.
3) What’s the value?
In some cases, particularly for large projects, you may need to go through full business case definition, but from the onset of an idea, you and your stakeholders should have a take on the value of pursuing an idea and turning it into a project. The value of an idea should be driven by the following 3 elements:
outcomes: what is the end-goal? Is it articulated clearly and in ways that will allow you to measure success for the organisation? What are the returns (financial, strategic, cultural) that are expected?
investment: how much is this going to take? Is this going to be a major undertaking that will require resources and skills you don’t have, or are you in a position to support it with your existing organisation? How easy will it be to secure the investment required?
time: what is the urgency? Is the timeframe realistic? Are there other things happening in the organisation that will support or conflict with your ability to deliver against that timeframe?
4) Think about your customer
Throughout an idea’s life, good communications with your stakeholders are paramount. Whenever a request comes your way, think about it from your customer’s perspective: why do they want this? Why is this important to them? How is it going to make their life better? Are there ways you can help them understand better what they need and articulate the results they are looking for? If an idea is going to be rejected, think about being on the receiving end; you want good reasons for proceeding with a project, but your customer will want to hear good reasons not to. After all, your customer is only trying to make things better, so whilst you want to manage the risk of investing time and effort into doing things that are not valuable, you don’t want to squash people’s cracks at innovation and creative thinking.
Putting an effective idea evaluation in place is about helping great ideas turned into great projects.
"Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work"- Seth Godin