2. Selecting the Best Projects

2.2 Assessing Qualified Projects

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With a long list of projects available, the next major goal is to assess and rate each based on the triple bottom line benefit they generate.

Qualifying Potential Projects

As has been consistently recommended, it is important that consideration be given to the lack of an unlimited set of resources available. With that in mind, it is worth examining the complete list of potential projects identified and deciding which warrant a complete assessment. The following techniques will help determine which are worth the effort involved:

  • Refinement: sometimes, by making minor adjustments, a potential project can be significantly improved. It’s worth spending a moment to consider if there is anything more that can be done to improve each project idea identified. For instance, a lunch waste reduction program could be expanded to also include an operational waste management strategy.
  • Combination: in some cases, the best opportunities are developed by combining several related or unrelated projects. Explore where there may be synergies and complimentary elements to different projects identified. Perhaps a lighting retrofit could be combined with the addition of motion sensors.
  • Piloting: certain situations make it difficult to implement a complete change that is sweeping or involves the entire organization. That may be due, for example, to a lack of support, resources or a high level of associated complexity. Adopting a pilot project, and implementing change on a smaller scale to start, can be a great way to make progress while building a case for and confidence in fully applying the change. 
  • Elimination: by applying a modestly critical eye, some ideas will naturally stand out as having little potential, either in general or at the present moment. Those with little potential in general should be eliminated, while those with greater future potential should be shelved for consideration down the road. An idea to build a new, high efficiency building might be too far out of the realm of possibility, while a plan to switch to low-flow toilets may seem feasible a year or two down the road.

Using a Project Assessment Framework

With a list of projects qualified for assessment, it is time to apply the Project Assessment Framework  that would have been created based on the instruction provided in the Measurement Capacity section. Data beyond what has already been collected is likely to be required, which should be collected to develop a complete picture of the opportunity each project presents. A lighting retrofit, for example, would almost certainly need extra information before the Project Assessment Framework could be fully populated; potential solutions would need to be researched and the best option used to assess the project’s value according to its unique cost, expected lifetime, energy demand, etc.

By rating each potential project using the assessment framework developed, it should become much clearer how projects compare and which would generate the most overall, triple-bottom-line benefit. 

Project Prioritization

At this point, it would be possible to simply decide what projects to adopt based on the ratings established by applying a project assessment framework. As much as using an assessment framework was intended to provide an accurate, relative measure each project’s value, there are almost always other circumstances and considerations to address. In a nutshell, our assessment framework has provided a strong starting point, but we still need to apply some common sense thinking to prioritizing projects before making final selections. 

One challenge an assessment framework can’t possibly resolve is how the value of an individual project changes when assessed as part of a group. For example, suppose employee engagement is currently a primary objective and the only two potential projects that strongly contribute to employee engagement do not earn a strong rating. Eliminating both projects based on their rating alone may be short-sighted for all the reasons employee engagement was established as a priority. The opposite may be true when considering a surplus of similarly-focused potential projects; if lighting projects, for example, earn consistently high ratings, it may be irresponsible to adopt all of them in the same year if it means ignoring other priorities.1

The following are several more practical considerations that may warrant adjusting how each project is prioritized beyond its rating:

Program Considerations

  • Project Urgency: in some instances, the window of opportunity associated with a particular project may be limited.  Emphasis may be placed on projects that are valuable now but will be less attractive (or no longer possible) in the future.  Construction schedules, expected regulatory changes, the dissolution of government funding programs, and even internal work cycles should all be considered.

    Imagine a new boiler must be procured in the next 6 months due to the malfunctioning of the existing unit.  The opportunity to replace the existing technology with a more sustainable solution will be lost if a new solution, expected to last for a decade, is implemented without the program’s influence in the current year.  

  • Short Term Program Objectives: we recommended projects be prioritized based on what is important for the program to achieve in the short-term, which will likely depend on the program’s maturity.

    For example, consider the launch of a brand new program that has garnered some leadership support but has not yet demonstrated it can enhance organizational performance. In that case, it may make sense to focus on projects that are financially strong to help secure leadership buy-in and generate a willingness to increase future program investment. 

  • Overall Program Objectives: revisit the vision defined by leadership and program objectives. It is worth considering how projects align and contribute to the fulfillment of this vision and the related outcomes desired.

    For example, if your program goal is to leverage strategic partnerships, it would make sense to ensure your list of projects includes plenty of opportunities to do just that.

Organizational Considerations

  • Organizational Circumstances: from fluctuations in financial strength, to periods of high turnover, to the imposition of new regulations and changing competition, organizations are always shifting in response to a constantly evolving set of circumstances. As part of selecting the strongest group of projects for one year, consider how the projects may assist (or hinder) the organization in working with current realities and aligning to strategic objectives.

    For example, consider how the prioritization of a large-scale, high-cost, high-return renewable energy project might be affected by the following three scenarios:

    • The organization nears insolvency and all budgets are dramatically slashed.

    • The transport of fossil fuels has recently led to two major accidents close to where most employees and customers live and public interest in alternatives is on the rise.

    • Leadership has decided technology and innovation will be a strategic area of focus and investment for realizing efficiencies and outperforming the competition.

    The immediate circumstances described will certainly impact the project’s benefit to the organization, even though the details of the project itself may be the same in each case. 

  • Change Management Objectives: the Change Management section described the importance of engaging with and harnesses the support and contribution of employees and other stakeholders. Although it may be intangible and more beneficial in the long-run, some projects will naturally inspire greater leadership and advocacy and should be valued accordingly. 

Footnotes: 

1. For more information on assessing qualified projects see Harold Kerzner’s 2009 Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling.


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