Assuming we have 3 projects for three different clients within an industry. The Concept papers are already approved and will be funded by senior managements. So it's rather in the next step of crafting the Business Case followed by the Project Charter.

We (project managment team) supposed to run all three projects simultaneously (One has to be picked up to start first, second and third) Ofcourse all clients want their project to be done first... Now, how can we determine which project should kick in first?

It is great to hear about most crucial, obvious/primary reasoning/justification we can use.


5 Answers 5


Assuming that all three projects have similar schedules, profit margins, strategic alignments, etc. (which I infer from your question).

  • Which one has the highest risk? I prefer to work on the riskiest project first; the earlier I can refine that risk, the better my chance of successfully managing that risk.

  • Which has the highest re-use value? For which of the projects will we be most likely to be able to re-use parts of the artifacts? If the three projects are completely independent, then this is null & void, but my experience is that I can re-use much of the language from one business case/charter/project management plan on the next artifact. If you're going to be able to re-use some of the language, work on the project that will best enable re-use first. Or, to put it another way, work first on the project that will best develop your Organizational Process Assets.

  • Which has the lowest risk for the first incremental deliverable? All other things being equal, I'll schedule my work in such a manner that I can produce an incremental deliverable early. That gives me some feedback, and also ensures that I'm perceived as successful earlier, which is important in perception management. If you have the opportunity to structure the project so that you can produce something quickly (if we're talking software, which project will deliver the first user story. If we're talking hardware, which project will produce the first mockup.) All other things being equal, I want to work on the project that will enable me to demonstrate some success quickly. Success breeds success.

  • Which has the toughest schedule/resource constraint? Schedule the projects to ensure that resource constraints don't kill you. If they're going to be worked concurrently, you're going to have to schedule them together. Schedule the most constrained resource first.

Yes, I'm aware that the first, third and fourth bullet are in tension with the second. You'll need to select your strategy based on factors which aren't identified in your question.

  • I am convinced for the risk/resouce aspect - thanks for that. Well each project is a discovery driven process - to say that scope gets attacked front of change requests (although we would have a certain cusioning for change). 1. So can we also take change management as another determining factor (change control is defined within planning but it is mostly active in execution phase)? 2. Could you please give an example for lowest risk for the first incremental deliverable?
    – bonCodigo
    Feb 20, 2013 at 12:43
  • 3. Not quite sure about the re-use value. Do you mean first project will give more experience to our team and let us review/execute/manage other on going projects with a skilled hands/also in terms of IT development e.g. some software libraries could be re-used?
    – bonCodigo
    Feb 20, 2013 at 12:45
  • Sorry forgot to give a +1 for giving me an answer with relevant points. Would be great if you could also consider my sub questions in comments related to your answer .
    – bonCodigo
    Feb 20, 2013 at 13:40
  • 1
    I'm still thinking about change management. Prioritizing risk first allows me to fail fast and move on to the next project. (or possibly grants me more freedom to adapt, but that's tougher to explain) I need to think about how change management affects that.
    – MCW
    Feb 20, 2013 at 15:56
  • 2
    Another consideration could be which is most likely to encounter external constraints or delays, or have long-lead items. Get that project started first and to the point where you are waiting for an external action, then use that "down time" to work on the next project. If you are lucky your various disciplines will encounter external slack time in the right order to make orderly progress on the next project. Feb 20, 2013 at 17:59

The decision can't be made until you have completed the business cases for each of the projects, and even then this is more of a question for executive management to answer rather than a PM team.

Ultimately the answer has to be based on the relative costs and benefits of the projects to your company, both in terms of hard costs/benefits (e.g. dollars spent, revenue in, etc) and soft costs/benefits (e.g. relationship with clients, business risks, etc). All other considerations like project risks, time constraints, technical complexity etc have to be subordinate to this examination of costs/benefits.

And if your executive management wants a decision now before the business cases are complete and they want you to make that decision it sounds like they are looking for a sacrificial lamb in case things go wrong....

  • Certainly, as each project is to deliver a business need, save/make money while maintaining client relationships - it's in the hand of senior management which project should go first. But let's assume that bigger scale projects have sub projects which are left to the PM team decide as per the development point of view (these are 3 IT projects for three main users[3 teams] in one deparment for one company. All three teams as equally important to client in terms of generating revenue).
    – bonCodigo
    Feb 20, 2013 at 16:16
  • It's such that we(PM) team needs to evaluate mainly from execution, resources, development point of view which can be started first/or which must be started first. Client is flexible as long as both runs simultaneously, however keeping up to the scope/schedule. I would like to keep the justification as clean, sharp, simple yet robust as possible - since as for any decision, this too has to be documented. And roll back of started project is rather costly...for us to bear.
    – bonCodigo
    Feb 20, 2013 at 16:20
  • By the time you complete your business cases and your cost/benefit analysis, code your project (probably complete with a nice Gantt chart ensuring you're 6 months behind schedule) the market will have changed and all of your estimations will be horribly inaccurate. Feb 20, 2013 at 19:07
  • @bonCodigo - Thanks for the clarifications, I didn't get all that from the original question.
    – Doug B
    Feb 20, 2013 at 19:40
  • @aclear16 - A couple of points. First, projects have to deliver business value for money spent and I don't see how you can do that reliably without a business case and cost/benefit analysis to base business decisions on. Second, as a project proceeds the business case can be revisited and progressively elaborated. Prepare to the level of detail needed to make your decisions. Your comment makes it sound like you work for your process rather than having it work for you.
    – Doug B
    Feb 20, 2013 at 19:45

I suggest to start with the one which seems to be the shortest one according to your project plan. If you start with that project, your chance to finish something in time, is bigger than starting with a longer one. A shorter project provides faster feedback which can arrive in time, can be useful in that or in the other projects. Of course, this approach may put a longer project at risk, but ensures that at least something will be ready in time.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find an article about this idea, but I'll keep looking.


"We (project managment team) supposed to run all three projects simultaneously"

This is probably the absolute best way to ensure that none of the projects are completed on time, or on budget. Even if your team(s) manage to waste absolutely no time context switching between projects (which is basically impossible) why deliver a project in 6 months that you could deliver in 2?

" Ofcourse all clients want their project to be done first... "

That's nice, but irrelevant to the question at hand. Clients always want their project done first.

"Now, how can we determine which project should kick in first?"

Firstly, it isn't which project should kick in first, it is which project should we complete first. This is a vital distinction. You shouldn't begin the next project until you finish the one you are on. All you will do otherwise is waste time and resources.

Secondly, you need a metric with which you can evaluate each of the projects. Cost of Delay is what you are looking for. How much money will it cost to delay project A 1 day (or week, or month or whatever scale makes sense)? Now your decision is simple. The cost of delay calculation doesn't even have to be that accurate, it just has to be measured for each of the 3 projects in a similar fashion. If all 3 measurements are off my a factor of 2 in the same direction, its still a good comparison.


First check whether you can make all three customers happy

If the project management team has been given this responsibility, I recommend starting with the desired completion dates. The three projects may be of differing sizes and durations. Draw up the detailed project plans to complete them so that all three customers will be happy. If you find that you run into resource constraints that will not allow you to do that at all, then only you need to go into all the other criteria mentioned for how to prioritize.

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