Defining Your To-Don’t Project List

Creating a project list for what your team is not going to work on can sometimes be more challenging than determining which projects they will tackle. Few organizations have enough resources to do everything in their project portfolio all at once, meaning PMs must evaluate what should be done now and what will need to wait. Finding the best way to do that—one that identifies the right priorities and works through resource bottlenecks and other issues—can be a daunting effort. Fortunately, a few time-tested strategies can help.

Project List

Begin by identifying your time pressures. If delaying a project will impact your company’s ability to conduct business, then it’s probably not a good candidate for the to-don’t list. Time-sensitive efforts may include projects that keep your organization on track to meet a compliance deadline, for example. Initiatives that are critical to the organization’s core functions or obligations—maintaining uninterrupted manufacturing capabilities, processing employee payroll, ensuring safe operations—will also need to be prioritized over projects that don’t carry such weight. With your must-complete projects identified, now look at the initiatives whose timelines are less critical. Where do they fall on the priority scale? An executive’s pet project will surely earn the team some favor, but when you can’t complete everything right now, the right decision may be to put it on the to-don’t list.

Now look at your workforce needs and availability. Labor, whether it’s internal or sourced from outside the company, drives much of the prioritization when multiple projects are competing for attention. Without enough people or expert support available to do the work, some projects simply can’t be executed. But unless you evaluate your workforce requirements across your entire project portfolio, you might conclude you have labor support when in fact you don’t. Evaluate which types of resources are necessary and then look at where conflicts may be present. If simultaneous projects call for the same labor resources, you may need to shift one or more initiatives onto the to-don’t list until the workforce assets become available. This minimizes bottlenecks and avoids delays down the road.

You’ll also need to consider your budget constraints and opportunities. Depending on the size of the organization, different operational areas may have their own pools of money available to fund the projects that are important to them. If an initiative hasn’t received enough support from the executive team or another high-ranking sponsor, you’ll need to decide if it makes sense to move forward now without a firm budget in place or if it’s more prudent to put the project on the to-don’t list until the funding picture has solidified. There are also situations where money is available—through a grant, a loan, an agreement with a business collaborator, etc.—but only for a limited time. In those cases, even if funding is lean for the rest of your project portfolio, you may need to make plans to move ahead to ensure you’re able to take advantage of the available dollars before the time window closes.

There’s one last step before your to-don’t project list evaluation is complete, and that’s selling it to the leadership team. Once you present the list to the top decision makers in your company, you may find that your perception of priorities doesn’t match the plans of one or more of your executives. It’s also possible that a sponsor, faced with losing the benefits of a potential project, will be dedicated enough to the initiative to round up more funding than you thought was available. Only after everyone has weighed in will you be able to finalize your team’s to-don’t project list.


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