Program Management Cycle

2. Selecting the Best Projects

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Having collected and analyzed relevant data through the process involved in Understanding Your Impact, we shift focus to the next stage of the Program Management Cycle: Selecting the Best Projects

The crux of the Guidebook revolves around adopting projects that serve to improve the sustainability of an organization while enhancing performance. The capacities developed in the Program Setup module and the steps involved in the Understanding Your Impact section all contribute toward an organization’s ability to select the best possible projects. Selecting a limited group of projects involves identifying potential projects, prioritizing them, and making some tough choices. The process can be challenging, and if it is not executed effectively, it will reduce (and sometimes eliminate) the possibility that a program can actually drive success.

Scenario Review: How much does it really matter where you put your trash?

Suppose your team was trying to decide how to use budget across a number of projects. Here three opportunities we will examine:

Project A is a boiler retrofit. The boiler, which needs to be replaced or repaired in the next few years, can be replaced with a newer model that uses 40% less energy. Compared to repairing the current unit, replacing it would cost about $25,000 more, but the payback period is only 30 months, with estimated natural gas savings of nearly $10,000 each year thereafter.

Project B involves the adoption of an energy management system. At a cost of $5,000, it would save no energy at all, but vastly improve the organization’s understanding and measurement of electricity consumption. The operations team suggests that knowing how and when the organization uses its electricity would help to identify new opportunities and more accurately measure the energy savings projects can generate.

Project C is an employee food waste reduction program. It involves the installation of new segmented receptacles for compost, recyclables, as well as garbage and has a special odour reduction feature. The idea was brought forward by the organization’s Green Team. The cost of the replacement receptacles is $1000.

The question is this: what is the best investment and does this change based on the circumstances? 

Here are some perspectives to consider:

If the program was still in its first year and would benefit greatly from a quick win with management, it might make sense to prioritize Project A with its strong financial return. However, if staff were particularly resistant to change, it may be most critical to get employees involved and on board, and Project C might be the best option. Alternatively, Project B might be the most attractive if you wanted to focus on building strong program capacity, as the measurement system would help identify future projects and accurately estimate and quantify their impact.

From a budgetary perspective, while Project A clearly has a strong financial benefit, it demands a large upfront capital investment. If the organization has only a small program budget, it may not be possible and could demand all or most resources available. Project B and C have much lower costs and may allow for other projects that offer a diversity of benefits, to be adopted

Consider also what the overall objectives of the program are. Perhaps operational efficiency is priority one. Maybe public recognition is a priority, or employee engagement, or industry leadership. It doesn’t take assessing each project option to see how larger objectives will also influence how each is prioritized. 

With so many different competing interests to manage, the prioritization of projects can certainly be challenging to perform well.

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Selecting projects can appear to be a simple exercise, especially having developed a framework for consistently assessing their cost and benefit. However, because an organization’s circumstances, priorities and constraints are always changing, it is critical to apply a thoughtful and flexible process like the one detailed in this section.

Steps Involved

With program constraints in mind, we cannot assess or adopt an unlimited number of projects. To efficiently establish the best projects to select, we will step through the following sub-sections:

  1. Identifying Potential Projects
  2. Assessing Project Options
  3. Adopting & Implementing Projects
  4. Harbourfront Centre Case Study
  5. Self-Assessment

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