How To Triage Your Strategic Project List

You’ve completed your situation analysis. You’ve clarified your vision. You’ve articulated your strategy into a concise strategy statement, cementing your strategic choices. Perhaps you’ve even prepared a draft budget.

Now comes the next stage – translating your strategy into an optimal portfolio of strategic projects to achieve your strategic objectives over the year ahead.

A fundamental challenge in strategy / strategic planning is that there are always more project ideas than there are resources available, in terms of time, money, people and energy. A difficult reality for many managers / management teams is saying “No” to a lot of ideas and “Yes” to only a few ideas. However, this essential step – of coalescing individual agendas into a single shared agenda – can’t be overlooked when it comes to ensuring the success of a strategic planning process.

The reality is that a business (or division) can only make a limited number of “big bets” each year. So how can you prioritise which initiatives should rise to the top of your list, to comprise your portfolio of wow / signature projects?

Managing Is Both A Horizonal And A Vertical Game

This approach applies both horizontally and vertically, by asking the same question from two different perspectives:

  • Horizontally: As a member of the board / management / leadership team, what are our big bets going to be?
  • Vertically: As the manager / leader of my division / function, what are our big bets going to be?

Much like a doctor working in the emergency room of a large hospital or in a war zone, faced with limited resources at your disposal, you need to apply a management triage process analogous to medical triage – treat the patient with the head wound first, the abdomen wound second and the foot wound third.

The Strategic Project List Triage Framework

Here is a simple six-step approach we’ve used for facilitating strategic planning dialogue and processes for boards, managers, leadership teams and communities, that can be used both horizontally and vertically, when it comes to determining what project ideas to bring on line now versus park to the side for consideration later.

  1. Brainstorm a wish list of potential project ideas
  2. Identify the short-list of signature projects you agree you will do Now (in year one)
  3. Identify the list of projects you think you will do Next (in year two)
  4. Identify the list of projects you consider you will do Later (in years 3 and beyond)
  5. Craft an engaging name for each of the signature projects you agree you will do Now
  6. Add your projects to the table below (see Example 1) and include this table as one of the appendices in your strategic plan, thereby creating an “ideas bank” for reference in future planning sessions (as well as a record of all the ideas you agreed to say “No” to for now, in order to say “Yes” to the few most important project ideas you committed to implementing over the year ahead).

Strategic Project Ideas Bank – Example 1

Now

Next

Later

Project 1
Project 2
Project 3
Project 4
Project 5
Project 6
Project 7
Project 8
Project 9
Project 10
Project 11
Project 12
Project 13
Project 14
Project 15
Project 16
Project 17
Project 18
Project 19
Project 20
Project 21
Project 22
Project 23
Project 24

 

Strategic Project Ideas Bank – Example 2

The creative process is first divergent and then convergent. Here is an example from

Here is an example from Co-lab Architecture who created a physical, visual display on a whiteboard of their strategic project ideas to engage the entire team in:

  1. the brainstorming stage (diverging), and
  2. the decision making stage (converging).

Conclusion

You’ll know you’ve applied the triage process well when as you progressively read from left to right, there are more projects in each column of the table.

Whilst 3-4 signature projects in column one works well for most people, we’ve also found that some people prefer to use “The One Thing” approach popularised by Keller and Papasan in their book by the same name. In such cases, by distinguishing between one primary strategic project and several secondary strategic projects, as illustrated below (see Example 3).

Strategic Project Ideas Bank – Example 3

Now

Next

Later

Primary

Project 1

Secondary 

Project 2
Project 3
Project 4

Project 5
Project 6
Project 7
Project 8
Project 9
Project 10
Project 11
Project 12
Project 13
Project 14
Project 15
Project 16
Project 17
Project 18
Project 19
Project 20
Project 21
Project 22
Project 23
Project 24

 

Resources

Blog Post: A Letter To A Newly Appointed CEO
Blog Post: Strategic Plan, Business Plan, Strategic Business Plan: Is There a Difference?
Blog Post: Taking A More Strategic Approach
Book: The One Thing, by Gary Keller, Jay Papasan

 

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