How CIOs can prioritize projects

How CIOs can prioritize projects
September 20, 2023  |  BY

If you’re an IT leader, no one needs to remind you about all of the projects on your plate these days. No longer are you solely responsible for managing your team in order to execute technology projects.

You’re now required to collaborate with other executives to foster initiatives for their departments. On top if that, you need a solid understanding of sales, buyer behavior, digital marketing – a host of other issues that affect technology strategy.

All of these projects are labeled “important” or “critical.” The question is, how do you assess everything on your to-do list and prioritize the work that best supports company goals, at any given time. It’s not easy.

When do you tell a colleague that their project isn’t high priority and needs to be delayed? When do you tell another colleague you can jump on their project right away?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to either of those questions. But in general, you should focus on if a given project will help a given department meet its obligations to the enterprise.

Yet even if you feel confident in pursuing a specific initiative, doubt is often bound to creep in – even for accomplished IT leaders.

You may wonder about the consequences of a project not succeeding. You may worry that choosing one initiative over another could end up having a negative effect on the business.

It turns out that these types of concerns aren’t so bad. In fact, they can force technology leaders to spend more time reflecting on the potential of each initiative.

Begin by assessing the business value of the requested project. How much impact will it have in terms of sales, employee efficiency, customer service, sustainability, and other key measures? In addition, consider the resources required, costs, and potential risks.

Related to this point is a need to balance short-term needs with long-term goals. This is especially critical in IT departments for medium- and large-sized companies. While it’s fundamental to focus on security and cost-effectiveness, you also have to allow for room in the project mix for innovation. As such, project priorities must acknowledge today’s and tomorrow’s requirements.

Of course, priorities will shift based on unforeseen changes in the business landscape and society as a whole. We all know how the global pandemic and the sudden emergence of AI (to name just a few examples) altered everything. So it’s important to remain flexible and adjust priorities as needed.

Strategic business goals most often dictate priorities. But the actual execution of the project can play a big role in determining what – and what not to – pursue. These can be technical and non-technical factors. What software and hardware will be required? What about training? Will staffing be a challenge? Will there be resistance to change among the ultimate end-users? How will the board react to the initiative?

Do research and interviews among a wide range of stakeholder to uncover potential roadblocks, as well as opportunities you may not have considered. This is key, as you end up building trust with key decision makers. They appreciate that you’re being transparent and are genuinely seeking their perspectives. By sharing both your apprehension and optimism for taking on a project. you’ll gain more support for the final decision.

Most major decisions in 2023 are primarily based on data, so that technique should be applied to IT priorities as well. Data and analytics can provide an objective argument for or against a specific initiative – or for switching the order of execution of specific initiatives. Data also allows you to provide concrete proof for how a project can facilitate a business objective.

Another benefit of using data is that numbers don’t lie; they don’t need to interpreted, so they speak for themselves. Plus, it’s now accepted that data in most major areas of the operation tend to inform the best possible decisions. Even more, by using data and analytics, CIOs and IT leaders are able to prioritize the most strategic projects without sacrificing innovation.

And finally, data doesn’t only help you determine which projects should take precedence over others; being data-driven can also transform otherwise “internal” projects into company-wide growth initiatives.

No talk of prioritizing IT projects would be complete without mentioning…technology.

Whether you’re wondering if you should approve, delay, or completely pass on a project, you must determine if the initiative aligns with enterprise’s current technology infrastructure and/or anticipated architecture.

How would the required technology investment impact operations? Will you have budget to recruit and train the personnel to manage the new technology? Will upgraded technology contradict the existing technology roadmap? How would replacing an existing technology affect company debt? These and other questions must be addressed for the technology portion of the potential project.

We can never be sure that our decisions will be the best possible decision. But with a careful, methodical process, we can feel a lot more confident that, at worst, we’re making prudent decisions. And when it comes to assessing priorities, that’s as good as we can get.