Growth Insights for CEOs

“Less is More”: Four Steps to Aligning Your Project Queue and Goals Today

Posted by Chris Wallner


There was a time in our lives when “busywork” might have been a good idea. Back in school, it was the way many of us created that semblance of subterfuge when we had expeditiously completed the assigned work, and were now just interested in writing a note to the girl two seats over.

Indeed, little harm came from such “busywork” – so long as we didn’t get caught.

Today, as grown ups, “busywork” no longer holds the cachet it once may have. With corporate belts tightening and analytics available that expose the efficacy of each and every tactic, bloat can be harmful or fatal to even the most well intentioned of marketing professionals.

And with 40 percent of corporate enterprises still bemoaning the fact that they can’t prove the ROI of their marketing activities, it’s clear that in many marketing departments, the project queue may be filled with plenty to keep the team busy – but is it hitting the mark?

I recently spent time with a financial services client that was struggling to define growth, as it battled for market share in a crowded segment. Upon evaluating its marketing portfolio, it was clear that it had completed many projects in the recent past – but only a handful had yielded what one would consider to be “big wins.”

The company’s queue of upcoming projects was similarly impressive, in terms of size and scope. But as I evaluated the list of projects against the CEO’s stated strategic goals, I noted a significant disconnect between those goals and the proposed efforts. In fact, the resource-strapped marketing department was, in my opinion, aimed squarely at the middle – poised for incremental success, but not focused on big-picture projects that were aligned with the stated growth aspirations of the leadership group.

What I experienced at this company, sadly, was not unique. In fact, only 14 percent of employees understand an organization’s business strategy, according to one study. But, rather than a well-kept secret, the strategy should be shouted from the hills – and in the case of our well-intentioned marketing department, used to help rationalize its project queue, in order to develop and execute a marketing plan focused on growing revenue and profitability.

There’s a fairly simple method you can employ to help get your team on the road to prioritizing projects against company goals and strategic objectives.  It requires you to identify the core decision drivers, and score each project on an exponential scale of 1, 3, or 9, based upon how well they match up against that decision driver.  

Here are common decision drivers: 

  1. How high is the bottom line benefit? Simply, quantify what the project will mean to the company’s bottom line each year. This can be through cost savings and/or more revenue. Score 9 for a project with a benefit above a high dollar threshold, score 1 for project with a benefit below a low dollar threshold, and 3 for everything in between.
  1. How low is the cost of implementation? Here’s where you will consider the cost of executing the project. You’ll want to look at hard costs (out of pocket), as well as soft costs (the impact on your human and other resources). Score 9 for a project below a low cost threshold, score 1 for a project exceeding a high cost threshold, and 3 for everything in between.
  1. How well does it strategically align with company goals? Does it support what the company has set forth to accomplish in the current term? If the stated objectives are to grow by a certain metric, or in a certain geographic area, or within a certain demographic, does your project directly support that focus? Score 9 for high alignment, Score 1 for low alignment, and 3 for everything in between.
  2. How much additional risk does the project bring?  Does the project bring additional risk to the company in terms of exposure to regulatory or compliance issues, increase in loss expense, reputational risk, etc.  Score 9 for low to no additional risk, Score 1 for high additional risk, and 3 for everything in between. 

For each project, then multiply the individual scores together to magnify the difference between projects.  (For those of you familiar with Six Sigma, this is the same approach used in the Failure Modes and Effects Analysis.) 

Ranking all projects by these final scores will prioritize the entire project queue against the set criteria. 

By executing this process with my financial services client, we were able to attack the company wide project queue with intention, reducing it from 30 to the "top 13 projects."  Just as importantly, projects we identified as not aligned with profit or with strategic objectives were deferred, to further sharpen focus.  In the spirit of “less is more,” this gave the company, and the marketing department, room to focus on fewer projects for bigger wins.

Also, to keep the leadership team focused on the "top 13," and accountable as a group, we recommended adding "percentage of top 13 projects completed in 2018" to each leader's performance plan.

Now, with clear goals, a sharply focused "top 13" project queue, and a strongly aligned leadership team, the company is confident it can achieve its goal to grow profitability by its lofty goal of 8X in 2018.   

Need guidance in undertaking this type of change at your enterprise? Give us a call at Chief Outsiders. We may be able to help facilitate a process that is right for your business.


Topics: CEO Business Strategy

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