There’s a well-known concept in retail that’s also relevant for project teams, and that is the abandoned cart. We’ve all done it at some point—perused a favorite store’s website and added items to our online basket, only to later close the browser window without completing the purchase. Maybe we weren’t quite sure we really wanted that particular product or perhaps the price gave us pause. In some cases, we just wanted to keep the item handy for further consideration. No matter what our intentions were at the time, the result was an abandoned cart.
Executive teams and stakeholders sometimes treat the organization’s project portfolio like an online shopping basket. Project requests and proposals come along that sound good or spark some interest, and they’re added to the cart. And just like digital baskets, it can be easy for organizations to lose track of how many requested initiatives are sitting in limbo or to let potential projects pile up before sifting through the contents and jettisoning those that aren’t truly a good fit.
Unfortunately, a project portfolio that’s brimming with forgotten or partially formed initiatives is a perfect environment for problems to fester. Messy portfolios often share common negative hallmarks. These include poor financial performance, lower-than-expected returns on the company’s project investments—both monetarily and strategically—inefficient resource management, and even sagging stakeholder engagement.
If your portfolio looks like a warehouse of abandoned shopping carts, there are some key strategies you can use to make sense of the jumble. You’ll be able to revisit and strengthen projects that show promise and trim outdated or disjointed proposals that aren’t likely to deliver good value. And with the right steps in place, you can keep your project portfolio healthy and achieve more consistent project success.
Elevate your project intake process
Too often, project teams feel pressured to add project proposals to the portfolio that are still only half-baked. While every project idea has to start somewhere, that doesn’t mean you need to accept them all for further action or consideration. To protect the health of your project portfolio, a pre-consideration step added to your intake process helps vet requests before they’re accepted. Help stakeholders understand what you want to see—initiatives with strong support, at least one or two well-defined objectives, and some basic budget justification—and set a timeline for a second look.
Create a schedule to review your portfolio and stick to it
One of the best ways to avoid abandoned project carts is to continuously monitor your project portfolio. Unfortunately, this can be a real challenge for teams that are stretched thin, or where project and portfolio data is incomplete, obsolete, or not easily accessible. Depending on your business, an annual review may be enough but be diligent to follow whatever schedule you choose. Combined with the right data collection and analytics tools, your team will have accurate and timely information available to inform these routine reviews and prevent project bloat from harming overall performance.
Involve the right stakeholder groups in your portfolio curation efforts
It’s nearly impossible to trim low-priority project proposals or reject requests that don’t closely align with the firm’s strategic vision if no one on the portfolio review panel feels they have the authority to do so. You need to involve the senior staff if you want to maintain control over which projects are added to the portfolio and which are deferred for further review or outright denied. Consider rotating members of the executive team for each review cycle to avoid the perception of favoritism and drive engagement at the highest levels of the organization.