Beware not to confuse good ideas with projects

Ideas are immaterial and often vague but the "raison d'être" of the project does not suffer approximation. We must, in a few sentences, communicate very clearly the objectives and the benefits expected of the project. This clarity of vision and positioning of the main elements of the project is critical: what will we deliverwith this projecy: products and services? Who are the customers? In what competitive environment? With what means and within what timeframe?

Here are some tracks to follow to avoid confusing a good idea with a sound project..

Adequacy with the strategy of the company

A non aligned idea or one that does not find anchor points with the strategy of the company will be much more difficult to sell and to turn into a project. It will miss a contextual frame to which executive management can refer to understand the positioning and the relevance of the idea, and then make the decision to launch or not the project. Despite the fact that breakthrough and innovative ideas (those that make or unmake the success of companies) often encounter such issue which they have to overcome to get to the project stage.

Concrete and quantified objectives

To speak about project, it will be necessary to us to define SMART objectives. Thus: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound.

Customers and Sponsors

Have we already identified customers who are firmly interested in this new product or service? Who are they? Would they be ready to jointly finance the development if we offered them this possibility? What sponsors are really going to wet their shirt to support and promote this project? What advantages are they going to get from it?

Return on investment

The idea can be attractive and offer strong potential of additional revenue, costs reduction or productivity increase. And, the idea does not cost much. On the other hand, the project holds very significant costs and its first evaluation must be as realistic as possible to start on good bases. It is of no use to present important profits and minimize the investment to reach this objective. Also, you have to do a thorough job but avoid spending too many efforts on this first sketch of realistic return on investment (ROI) on projects as many should fail the launch stage if you have enough innovative ideas. For example, it could be due to a weak ROI, or a break even point too far away to be attractive for the company. It is necessary to choose only the very best of your good ideas.

Definition of the scope

The idea is prone to evolve, to grow richer, to expand... The project must be well scoped to define its deliverables, timeline, and costs. It will not prevent it from evolving over time in later versions of the product/service. And these later versions will be new projects with their own well defined deliverables, timeline and costs. This scoping needs to identify the critical contents without which the project would loose its core value. Therefore, concentrate on what will make the success of the product or service, not the bells and whistles and other interesting good additional ideas.

Operational, strategic and competitive necessity: impact not to do this project

Also called the "do nothing" scenario. To better sell the idea and transform it into an approved project, it is always interesting to calculate the impacts not to do this project. It maybe a loss of market shares, to stagnate on a level of productivity which does not allow you to increase sales, not to be in position to maintain margins while the situation requires it. If possible, calculate and express it in simple terms: "every day without this new IT application in the company is costing us xK euros", or "without this new service or product, our competitor X continues to eat Y% of market shares each and every month".

Completion conditions

A project, unlike an idea, has clear start and end dates. To make sure of this clarity, it is not useless to ask some basic questions prior to launching it: when will the project be complete? How will we know we've reached that point? What simple and indisputable measures will we use to determine the end? It may be the production use of a new system, the signed off product acceptance, the end of a validation pilot, the last site connected during the deployment of a network.

Conditions of stop before the end

Although we have no intent to fail, it can happen. And, if this occurs, it better be noticed it as soon as possible. Thus, think before the start about the conditions which could justify stopping the project before its end. It is neither about pessimism nor defeatism. It is important to clarify these conditions to eliminate surprises. They can be linked to the project itself: delays, cost overruns, quality problems, human problems... or more external to the project team: a rival product or a new entrant which modifies significantly the market, a legal or economic context which evolves and makes our product or service far less attractive or much easier to copy for competitors...


I hope that these modest advices will help you raise to yourself some useful questions and prepare you to transform your promising ideas into concrete projects!


Michel Operto

I've been leading IT projects for more than 20 years at telecom and computer manufacturers: Thomson Sintra, Digital Equipment, NCR, Nortel Networks, Orange Business. My passion is Project Management and leadership and I run a blog on the PM best practices at