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a compelling argument

A Compelling Argument For Strategic Project Investment Force Ranking

posted Monday Jan 01, 2018 12:00 AM

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Steven Rollins

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Today’s Current Situation

Choosing which project to work has long been part of the work challenge for businesses and their workforce. To choose which strategic project correctly requires understanding of how each project candidate will best help the organization bottom line and how soon it can be realized are many other factors to consider. When choosing which strategic project to work next is left to the tactical workforce to decide, risk is very high that the choice made will not be in the best interests of the organization. This is not the tactical person’s fault for not knowing. They lack sufficient line-of-sight (transparency) to make proper choices. All they can see is their work that is on and/or around their desk. If this same person is expected to make these choices regularly with minimal management approval, often this person will make work selection decisions based on their needs, likes and wants.

I fondly recall a client engagement where I was there to help improve the PMO for an Information Technology department for a large corporate insurance company. Like so many businesses then and now, they were enduring a high project failure rate and as a result, were drawing heavy scrutiny by senior management.

As I started my engagement on the first morning at the client site, I was breaking away from a heavy load of meetings that morning to visit the facilities. I was met coming out by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) Jim, who greeted me warmly by saying, “Hello Steve. Welcome to our department. How are things going so far and what do you know”? Jim was a results oriented executive and when he asked this type of question, you better be ready. I was. I had been on the job for three (3) hours but I already knew what was missing for them. The question was did they (Jim)? I responded to Jim, “Hi Jim. Thank you for the welcome. I am happy to be here. I am certain I can help your department. I do have questions I am attempting to answer maybe I could ask one or two questions of you while we are here and then later meet with you to conduct an assessment interview to collect additional information? Would this be ok with you? Do you have a moment to discuss? Jim replied absolutely. Fire away. Thank you Jim I replied! Can you tell me where I can find the list of this fiscal year’s strategic objectives for the business? Also can you tell me who at the executive level has been assigned to chair the delivery of each stated strategic objective? Jim responded, well let’s see. I know we have five (5) strategic objectives and I am not sure who is leading any of those. We seem to manage the achievement of the strategic objectives as a committee at the executive level. Thank you Jim! That was very helpful. I will contact your secretary to schedule an interview session with you soon. Off we left in separate directions. I now knew that that part of the success problem for completing projects began at the executive level.

Impact of This Situation

When these practices are applied commonly by the workforce the impact will always be disparate. How many workers can we estimate will choose to work the work in the correct strategic forced rank order that the organization has stated is important to be accomplished and/or the worker understands is the management directive to be accomplished? If the different governance teams that are working within the organization don’t monitor the progress of work well and/or timely, workers will make the discretionary call that favors them. These choices add more value to the worker (by their choice when they choose) than they do to the organization. A valuable self-test method to validate this premise is to assess your own workload. The work you are performing and the work that is pending for you has organizational value. Take a moment and force-rank your work in terms of what you have planned to work in the order of work sequence as of today forward. Next re-rank this same list based on what is most valuable to the organization. If the two lists are not identical, you are practicing in a disparate manner to what the organization expects of you unless of course you have a management directive to work the work in the order you currently have. In most cases, the worker chooses the work order and the sense-of-urgency they will give to complete the work plan without considering how that work value contributes the best from all other choices they could have made. If the majority of the workforce is practicing the same process, the overall result will prevent the organization from achieving their strategic goals as soon as possible. This is a disparate practice. In today’s competitive world, time-to-market is everything. The overall challenge is to combat disparate choices by improving the availability of the governance decision data to all role levels.   What are the expected costs of removing the disparity? The least financial impact is simply to communicate critical information to the workforce. Communicating strategic goals each year to the work force is a great start. How many peers do you know that understand which strategic objective their work assignments contribute to and the strategic force rank order that strategic goal has been assigned relative to other strategic goals of the organization and/or business? Just understanding this awareness can greatly influence worker choices on selecting work activities for best value for the business. What does communicating the force-rank order of the strategic goals really cost the business? The reality of this is truly amazing because the costs to communicate are so microscopically low that it is a wonderment why so many businesses fail to act on this opportunity.


To deploy a strategic force ranking process across the business enterprise can seem daunting. Actually the process can be simplified to be completed in a very short time period if all participating committee members are truly collaborating and performing their expected roles on the committee. Start with assembling a cross functional team from various lines-of-businesses (LOB) that will develop a force-ranking template to be utilized for all strategic projects. This committee will should meet weekly over a five (5) to ten (10) week period to develop the force-ranking template. Typically someone from the Enterprise Program Management Office should chair this committee. In week one, the committee reviews the organizational strategic goals and begins the elaboration for what force-ranking data should be collected.

In week two, the committee discusses the essential business rules for measuring strategic value of proposed project candidates that are scalable to different incremented values of project benefit outcomes. Typically, a standard scale should be utilized to rate each strategic objective on the force-ranking template starting with the lowest value (0) to the highest value (5). Each scaled level should state the quantification/qualification of the expected value result in order for that project to be assigned that rating. The end-result template should have all strategic objectives listed and scaled from 0-5. Each strategic objective should also be weighted in a force-ranked manner comparative to the other strategic objectives within the assessed group of strategic objectives. In addition each strategic objective should be assigned a specific percentage (from 100%) of its overall contribution to the total mix of strategic objectives. This result is used to multiply the scored scale for the specific strategic objective for which the proposed project activation candidate will be calculated for overall weight considered against all strategic objectives assessed for the project and for each specific strategic objective as it relates to the project.

The calculated weights are summarized and transferred along with the specific strategic objective weighting to the project portfolio data columns for each corresponding data element. Once the data is transferred, the appropriate governance team can assess the numerical order for social alignment with current and future business outcome expectations. Committee work weeks 3-8 (as necessary) are utilized to construct and socialize the template with committee sponsors. The final committee meetings are utilized to organize the process roll-out and data collection along with establishing the continuing reporting requirements from each LOB working strategic projects. It should also be understood that for each LOB, not all projects are strategic. Some are break/fix projects are have short durations. Managing these projects in this manner is not always worth the effort. However, none of the internal LOB projects that have not been identified as a strategic project should be worked/completed at the expense of waiting strategic projects when resources are available. Doing so defeats the purpose of selecting/working work that brings the most business value to the business.

Expected Benefits:

Implementing this process model into your organization should yield the following benefits:

  • All strategic work will be aligned by value in respect to each strategic objective.
  • This alignment can be disseminated on a regular basis to the work force.
  • Role-level accountability should improve dramatically over the next several months based on the regularity of the various governance teams that review this information for continuing progress.
  • Workforce members who access to this data dynamically or at least on a sufficient frequency can check their work plans for alignment with this business on a regular basis. Doing so enables the worker to stay within expectations for what the business expects from work results.
  • Through strategic project alignment, all strategic projects identified that are expected to contribute to the achievement of a specific strategic objective. If those projects have active project schedules that statistically valid (Critical-pathed, resource loaded and managed for delivery risk), then the expected achievement date for each strategic objective can be determined.
  • Future portfolio tipping points become more clear enabling avoidance or acquisition by the governing team.

Other benefits will emerge depending on the maturity of your organization to organize the data, disseminate the data, and the ability of the workforce to act on it.

How To Measure The Need To Align

Take a moment and answer the following questions to self-assess the need for alignment:

  1. What are the top strategic objectives for your organization this year?
  2. What are the top 10 strategic projects for the fiscal year?
  3. Are your strategic projects linked to a specific strategic objective?
  4. What is the expected achievement dates for each strategic objective?
  5. What job role is the most strategically critical today, last month, two months from now?
  6. Are our project schedules reliable?
  7. Are your projects often late and rarely early/
  8. Does the executive governance team have transparency to the interdependencies of competing project investments?
  9. Year-year, is your organization spending more than it is budgeting on project investments?
  10. Is the backlog of pending strategic work often backing further back into calendar causing increased stress on the achieving the fiscal year strategic plan?

If you struggled to answer these questions in a less-than sufficient manner to your standards, most likely your organization would benefit from force-ranking alignment. Most likely, process disparity in how work is activated is not in strategic alignment with business goals. This is likely adding extra effort to many projects, possibly more so if demand for resource support n projects is high.

Strategically aligning work can begin to give back wasted level of effort by reducing the natural state of competiveness that often exists within business cultures. By simply understanding approved strategic force-ranking results for any grouping of strategic projects can deliver a minimum of 10% return-on-investment towards productivity gains earned from the reduced conflict efforts that had been occurring. W*****ver the total planned spend of your current project portfolio is for the year, what could your organization do with an additional 10% of that money? Keep more people employed? Perhaps deliver more successful completed projects? Add/save more customers in a fiscal year?

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