Project Selection - Qualitative Methods

By Don Ardiel

Have you ever started working on a project that your boss thought was a good and/or needed change. You spend 3 weeks working on it only to find out that your boss thought it would take two days at the most. You thought that you were doing the right thing and would receive recognition for your hard work and commitment. Instead, everyone is unhappy. Your boss thought you wasted time. You are bitter because your boss didn't make expectations clear. Your spouse and kids aren't too happy because they thought you should have been with them, not working all through last weekend to get it done. And what do you have to show for that effort: squat.

Clearly with all of the "thought" in this situation, there was very little "thinking".

One of the biggest problems with doing projects, particularly in small organizations that do not have established project practices, is that analysis of expected outcomes and alternatives is seldom done. It takes time and energy to determine the best course of action. Often, by the time the project is supposed to get started, time has run out. The only alternative is the obvious one. If the project starts running into trouble, such as a lack of commitment from those who must contribute resources, success is illusive. Even on small projects, a modest amount of analysis of alternatives could significantly influence project success.

Let's make an initial assumption: There is a well considered, documented problem in an organization that requires resolution. The first question to ask is whether change is necessary or will maintaining the status quo resolve the issue. If maintaining the status quo is an appropriative resolution, do nothing - problem solved. If not, do something - enter The Project.

In order to determine what we must do, we need to understand the problem.( Refer back to the Strategic Planning learning unit for ideas in this area.) We will further assume that we understand the nature of the problem, that a change to some organizational system(s) is needed and we have an idea of what objectives the project will fulfill. Now we need to determine which path to follow to achieve those objectives. Often there are a number of choices. Each choice has both benefit and risks associated with it. The challenge is to sort out which projects or project alternatives will deliver the desired outcome at an acceptable level of risk.

There are both qualitative and quantitative approaches to selecting projects and project alternatives. Many projects do not have a clear quantifiable outcome such as return on investment (ROI) or net present value (NPV). Their outcome may be related to enhancing image and identity, cleaning up the environment or improving relationships. They indirectly influence more quantifiable results. This learning unit is intended to introduce the "qualitative" methods for determine appropriate choices.

A related issue in determining project choices is the process of making decisions, particularly in the context of change, conflict, stakeholders and groups. A Facilitated Decision Making resource unit is available to assist the student in understanding the process of stakeholder group decision making.