How To Manage Projects: Double Down, Delegate, or Destroy

Dan: I'm really excited about Project X. It's going to be an epic win for the team.

Colleague: That's great. How much time are you spending on it?

Dan: Minimal. Just keeping an eye.

Colleague: That's surprising given how important it is.

Dan: It's not where I'm needed. They'll nail it without me, and I'm too busy making sure Projects Y & Z get shut down.

Most disciplined managers (and companies) build prioritized to-do lists of their team's most important projects so that they can invest time and resources accordingly. But leaders beware! Rather than focusing on projects that are most important, leaders should focus on where their personal leadership skills CAN ADD THE MOST VALUE. To help me determine how to invest my time and energy, I use a tool called the Priority Matrix (PMAT).

For each project in my organization, I evaluate it on two dimensions. A) What is the VALUE of the project if it succeeds? B) What is the PROBABILITY of it succeeding? I plot those projects on a 2x2 matrix (value on one axis; probability on the other).

As you can see, I've named each quadrant: Junk, Small Win, Big Bet and Home Run. I allocate my team's resources on Home Runs first, followed by a mix of Small Wins and Big Bets depending on the circumstance. Here is the framework I use to help determine how I allocate my own time across these areas.

Home Runs: Contrary to what you might think, I do NOT personally invest substantial time in these projects. I DELEGATE it to a star on my team, set guidelines and goals, ensure it has the right resources, and I watch it closely (getting weekly updates) to ensure that it maintains a high probability of success. As long at it remains high probablity, I let my star drive it forward.

Small Wins: Like Home Runs, I delegate these projects, but am less focused on selecting the project manager unless it is a great learning opportunity for someone developing a new skill set. I also delegate responsibility for overseeing the project manager. I do not worry about tracking these projects explicitly, and I try to make sure that my big stars are not working on them either.

Big Bets: This is where I can add most value, so I DOUBLE DOWN and get personally involved. I scrutinize these opportunities before getting involved though since I can only handle one or two of these projects at a time. They must be high value, but also not too low probability to be a pipe dream. My goal is to use influence and problem solving skills to turn this project into a "Home Run", and then I hand it off to a star on my team. I also watch for signs that the likelihood of success is so low that the project should be cancelled, in which case I facilitate the shut down.

Junk: I do not ignore Junk projects. In fact, I FOCUS on them. I get directly involved and DESTROY, so as to free up the organization’s resources for other projects. Per my previous post on pruning, this is where managers can spend time very effectively and make a difference. Everyone has Junk projects occurring at their company… and removing them can be tremendously helpful.

I frequently think about whether I'm allocating my time intelligently, and I encourage my team to do the same. I ask my managers to plot their projects on the PMAT and then write down how much of their time they're spending on each project. A light bulb usually goes off, and calendars usually get revised as a result. People often leave the session with fewer things to do and more time allocated to the projects where their involvement can truly make a difference. I hope the PMAT will help you do the same when you’re building your 2013 to-do list.

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