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Project Alternatives

Eric McConnell
October 18, 2010

Examine alternative ways of project implementation

Looking for alternatives to the projectRegardless of the chosen approach and management strategies for implementing a project, there are always some alternative ways to implement the project using the same resource base and meeting the same business need. Such ways are called “project alternatives“. In the Initiation Phase, the identification and management of project alternatives will provide options for completing the project, while addressing the original business problem and delivering the expected business benefits.


A Project Alternative is another combination of the project’s costs, schedules, resources, and risks that allow achieving the same results as compared to the project base-line. It is one or more ways to produce the project and address the business need while using the same resource base yet operating in a new project environment and facing new working conditions. Another name of the Project Alternative is the Project Option.

Often the project alternative is not a close substitute to the original choice yet sometimes it may offer similar solutions but in a new combination and interpretation. The nature of the project alternative makes two alternatives mutually exclusive. Meanwhile, a combination of two or more project alternatives creates a new project alternative.


Managing project alternatives means performing a complex activity dedicated mainly to identifying alternate methods of achieving the same results.Project alternatives management is closely linked to an idea generation process. Such a process assumes selection and validation of the ideas that suggest an alternative and effective way to any given approach of project management and delivery. The idea generation process admits using such techniques and tools as brain-storming, lateral thinking and pair-wise comparisons. The same techniques & tools can be applied to identifying and managing project alternatives.

Alternatives management results in developing a formal Project Alternatives Document (PAD) that combines all the information about reasonable alternatives approved and their unique and common features. The development of the document is highly important because it determines all available options for successful project implementation to achieve business buy-in and ensure that the options are under consideration of the key stakeholders. The identified and considered alternatives for the project become potential solutions to be analyzed later as a part of the Feasibility Study.

Development Process

The process of developing project alternatives consists of a series of steps to study business resources invested in the project and identify reasonable opportunities for obtaining the expected benefits and meeting the business need. The process helps the management team to identify the critical factors associated with each design alternative, and compare the impact of various combinations on the project’s cost, schedule, resources, and risk.

The implementation of the alternatives development process includes the next steps:

1. Identification

At this step of the process, a range of reasonable alternatives that address the business need and meet the project purpose are to be identified. The key idea here is to define possible yet reasonable options that’re developed in response to key business issues and to fit the purpose, while minimizing environmental impacts. First, a set of possible project alternatives will be proposed; then by means of analysis and forecast methods, the cost-effectiveness of each alternative proposed will be measured, and thereby the reasonable alternatives will be identified. Then a table of the alternatives will be created – this table will include both unique and common features of each reasonable alternative. The Project Alternatives Table (PAT) will be used further for alternatives comparing.

2. Comparison

During this step, a review of identified alternatives should be conducted; both unique and common features of the alternatives should be compared. A comparison matrix of identified alternatives will be created, using the information taken from the PAT. The matrix will include similarities, differences, and how each of the alternatives meets the project evaluation criteria and the business need. The Project Alternatives Comparison Matrix (PACM) is especially helpful for complex projects with multiple alternatives.

After comparing and weighing all the benefits and impacts of all of the reasonable alternatives listed in the PACM, one or several alternatives showing the best compliance with the business requirements will be selected and sorted out by relevance.

3. Selection

At this step, the rationale for identifying and selecting the preferred project alternative should be established. The decision on such an alternative should be analytical and clearly address the specific evaluation criteria, with reference to the business need. Then the preferred alternative will ensure successful achievement of the project purpose and realization of the business benefits. It will be added to the final version of the project alternatives document.

Note: If two or more alternatives are equally suitable, then they can be added to the document but this decision may require additional consideration. The range and number of preferred project alternatives will depend upon such factors as scope, business need, resource base, overall duration, others.

Please read this Feasibility and Option Analysis Template to learn more.

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