Last year I spent a considerable amount of time working on business cases with a client. They were using the “Five Case Model” of developing business cases, which is a rigorous process of progressively elaborating a business case over time. Some of those discussions came back to me recently when I was listening to another project manager tell a parable about an organization that had planned and executed a wonderful project to travel to Seattle. The project came in under budget, and ahead of schedule. Unfortunately the destination should have been New York.
As project managers, we don’t always get involved in defining project direction/alternatives. But sometimes, particularly for internal strategic projects, we need to make sure we initiate the correct project. The analogy we often used for the Five Case discussions mentioned above, was that of a river crossing. Imagine that community leaders have come to you and asked that you provide a way of transporting goods and people across the river to the neighboring community. We could call this the Strategic Opportunity. You might think a bridge is the most nature choice, but there are many ways to fulfill this need, including:
- A bridge
- A tunnel
- A ferry system
- A cable-car system
- A catapult
After documenting the needs of the community leaders and evaluating the alternatives, you might determine that some sort of ferry system is likely to be the most effective and cost efficient choice. The ferry solution might be referred to as the Preferred Way Forward (PFW). Now you need to turn the PFW into the Preferred Project Option (PPO), by evaluating the different ways of providing a ferry service. Rather than purchasing a big new boat, you might determine that the two communities can implement a ferry service using existing small boats, that are scheduled to cross the river every 20 minutes – and so this becomes your PPO – and this is the project you need to initiate (by writing your project charter).
It seems to me that too many organizations jump straight to a solution (Preferred Project Option) without taking the time to understand if this is actually the right project to implement – and that’s why their projects sometimes try to cross a bridge too far, and end up dead in the water.