Never Met a Project Your Credit Union Didn’t Like?

Too many “works-in-progress” can quickly clog the system and keep your credit union from achieving project goals in a timely manner.




Credit unions – or just about any organization – frequently pursue many projects simultaneously. Almost inevitably, the number of small and large projects in a portfolio exceeds the available resources such as funds, equipment, staff time, and competencies. As a result, we’ve seen what can happen: over-flowing in-boxes of tasks clamoring for your – and your managers’ attention.  Everyone is expected to multi-task to get project work done. Right? 

Wrong. With so many project tasks assigned, so many distractions caused by jumping from one task to another, and multi-tasking across projects – it can be overwhelming.  This “project-hopping” can create undue stress on your organization’s capacity and abilities, often causing paralysis.  Consequently, there is a lot of “work-in-process” (work started, but not finished) that quickly clogs the system – and keeps your credit union from achieving many project goals in a timely manner. 

With all the technology available to us today, the more we multi-task, one would believe the more efficient we become.  However, Professors David Meyer (University of Michigan) and Marcel Just (Carnegie Mellon University) have both conducted studies that conclude just the opposite – that multi-tasking increases inefficiencies rather than makes us more efficient. (NPR, The Thief of Time Multitasking is Inefficient, Studies Show)

How can we “unclog” the system and get more tasks and projects done?  One of the most important levers for solving the multi-tasking inefficiencies in project management is to move from the philosophy of “just do it” to “do just it.”  Rather than multi-tasking, staff should focus on a single task until it is completed and then move on to the next task.  That way the task is finished and it can be handed to the next person (who needs the completed task to work-on/complete their task, etc.). 

Focus is critical for task efficiency.  For an employee to focus on the most important task to do next, projects must be prioritized.  Otherwise, every project and task has the same “weight” and employees are left to make their own best “guess” on what to do next. 

Prioritizing, however, is often a VERY difficult aspect of project management.  Without an effective project selection and priority system, the capacity overload coupled with project politics will lead to frustration, confusion, and inefficient use of resources

Here are a few reasons why prioritizing projects are difficult:

  1. Politics of an organization can have a significant impact on project selection – especially if there is not a more objective way to determine which projects are most important.
  2. Where there is not a consistent project filter to organize projects, all projects seem important (i.e. there are typically three levels of projects: 1] strategic – these are typically corporate driven and cross discipline in nature, 2] departmental, and 3] individual).
  3. Credit unions will often have a list of strategic projects but have not formalized any process for listing departmental or individual projects. Consequently, there are no controls for resource deployment levels below the strategic projects.  This lack of disciplined delegation can cause many clogs due to “work-in-process” but not the controls/feedback loops to adjust task work focus to get the work completed.

The following tips will help reverse these difficulties:

  • The leadership truly agrees on vision and strategy
    • Often, the team will “shake their heads in accord” and “look” like they agree.  However, leaders control resources (money and people), and when you look how resources are actually deployed by these leaders, you will often find that there is misalignment with the vision and strategy – and with each other. This trend needs to be reversed for progress and productivity.
  • Using the Credit Union’s vision and strategy, make sure projects are aligned.
    • Use a strategic Scorecard approach (i.e. Balanced Scorecard) to help organize and align projects to the vision and strategy of the credit union.  Associate each project with the scorecard category (i.e. Financial, Member Growth, Employee Loyalty, Regulatory Compliance, Operations, etc.) and its corresponding objectives/measures/and targets.  Click here to see sample.
  • Use a process to filter projects according to project level/scale.
    • Create a project steering committee to determine whether projects are strategic, departmental, or individual – and match the projects to strategies and scorecards for the enterprise, departments, and individuals.
    • Ensure the scope of the work realistically matches the resources required in time, money, and talent There can be serious disconnects if the project resources required have not been considered objectively.
  • Using your strategic, department, or individual scorecard, prioritize projects based on the most impact to your credit union.
    • To implement a focused, efficient task work environment, credit unions should not exceed working on five or six strategic projects at any given time.  The projects should be ordered according to most important – and changes immediately communicated to all employees.  Department and individual projects should also be monitored and communicated – and the list should be short.  If you are able to adhere to the principle of working on fewer projects at a time, you will see that people will get the projects done much faster AND you will get more projects completed.  (Although research proves this true, minimizing multi-tasking “feels” like an oxymoron.)
  • Adopt a standard methodology for project management that is consistent and used at all levels of the organization.
    • Standardize your project management methodology so that every employee is trained to work effectively on a project team.
    • Create communication and accountability levers so there is discipline in creating clarity around the work and reporting results of work progress on projects.  Ensure consistent, disciplined feedback loops so leaders can monitor how resources are being deployed and make changes accordingly.

Following these tips, use your vision, strategy, and scorecard to help determine the few projects that will make the biggest impact on your organization’s success.  Communicate often and clearly your project priorities to allow your employees to focus on their work efforts – getting more done, faster. Next thing you know, your projects will be completed on time and on budget. Your credit union will be a more productive organization and, thusly, more valuable to your members. So don’t just do it; do just it!

For more information on project prioritization, please contact Jim Cardwell or Karla Norwood at Cardwell, 800-395-1410. Visit our Connections Online website:




Aug. 6, 2007


  • Good practical advice
  • When I first started reading this article, I thought, "excellent! This is exactly how I feel about our organization; we need more articles like this!" Then I read the solutions and realized that we are already doing all these things. We have a project management team, a "steering" or selection committee that determines which projects are selected based on priority. Management sets the priorities each year and we have 2 or 3 priorities which we consider most important or "vital". However, what happens is that for those two or three top priorities (or programs) there are maybe 5 to 10 projects created. Thus, our two to three vital programs turn into 30 projects which anyone person might be working on 3 to 6 at a time. I think maybe the difficulty is that we are usually doing transformational projects so even though we are only doing two or three each one consumes vast amounts of resources. I can hardly imagine doing 5 or 6 major projects. Thank you for writing this article I think that it’s an important topic for management to be discussing!
  • Excellent! We took on the task of adopting a very strick project management discipline two years ago and are close to "getting it right." The weight of the discipline is on scoping, but since scoping takes resources we have a beginning process that using a project request. In this request, the strategic link, the member and organization benefit and the hard costs are identified. The senior leadership team that represents all business units reviews the request and asks questions to determine if the strategic fit and benefits are worth the work. If approved at this level it then goes to a full scoping with a team made up representatives of each of the affected business units. This process has reduced the project integration and implementation time and the cost because time spent on scoping saving time spent later on work arounds or changes. Also using a tool like microsoft project for all projects keeps our project work in line with our manpower bandwidth.
    Rich Jones