If you have managed large project portfolios, or worked as a consultant helping different companies, you’ll recognize the situation. It’s particularly apparent when you start a new leadership role or assignment. Remember the questions you asked early on, ones like “why are we doing this project?” and “why do we have so many projects?”.
The answers will also be familiar. “It’s important for (insert country)” and “marketing want it” or “it’s been going for a long time and it’s probably still important”.
There are some common names for these projects, most commonly the “walking dead” or Zombies. They move in a slow, weird fashion. You try to run away from them, and you can’t shake them off. They’re ugly, they act as if they’re alive and they scare you. That’s just the projects.
But Zombie projects can be like Vampires too. This is quite topical given that 37% of films and TV programs shown in the last 12 months feature a Vampire. This statistic may not be quite accurate, it just seems that way.
Vampire projects are parasites. They extract blood, they take away your ability to resist and at the same time they appear to be normal. There is some support and sympathy for them, they have allies and they are notoriously difficult to kill.
You must persist. These projects need to be killed for the sake of your health, otherwise you’ll be bitten and your ability to resist the growth of these Vampire projects will be diminished.
You know your project portfolio is inefficient as long as the Vampires continue to survive. You will waste resources on projects that have gone on too long, and when you know those resources will help your top priority projects to move faster. These projects make your overall innovation delivery sub-optimal and inefficient, and these days you just can’t afford to accept that.
So here are some basic tips to drive a wooden stake through the heart of Vampire projects:
1. Prioritize your projects using objective criteria, for example potential sales is usually the top one.
2. Kill the projects at the bottom of the list (the last 10% is a good number to start with), this is where most of the Vampires will be.
3. Challenge the “friends” of the remaining Vampire projects and get them to either change the project’s profile, or kill it.
4. Set hurdle rates for future entry of projects into the portfolio, to prevent the emergence of future Vampires.
The way you approach this project cull will clearly depend on how your company works, but in order to become more efficient you should stay determined and work your way through the organization and politics.
Once you’ve cleaned up your project portfolio, recognize you’ll need to keep doing it on a regular basis. Then, keep an eye on your neck, and look out for those telltale puncture marks.