How to prioritize projects

How to prioritize projects

How to prioritize projects

No matter who you work for or how big your project, knowing what to tackle first when you’ve got lots of balls in the air is tough for any project manager.

Project prioritization gives you and your team an easy-to-follow plan for the work that needs to be done, while also setting clear expectations for your client or organization. In other words, it sets everyone up for success!

Here’s how to prioritize projects in 5 easy steps:

1. Start prioritizing projects based on business value

Begin by looking at each project on your list with one simple question in mind: How will this project impact business? While you certainly want to take the organization’s bottom line into account, you also need to consider how a project will affect people. For example, will it make life easier for our customers or team members?

Keep in mind this step might require conversations with your managers, clients, or other key stakeholders. Don’t be afraid to ask detailed questions to ensure projects that bring the biggest bang rise to the top.

2. Set priorities by identifying urgent and important projects

Now it’s time to take the prioritization process one step further. With your list of important projects in hand, go back over it with an eye for urgency. It’s easy to confuse importance with urgency, so let’s draw a clear distinction:

  • An important project brings value to your business, whether you feel its impact today or years down the road.
  • An urgent project requires immediate attention to stay on track or keep business going.

This time management matrix Stephen Covey developed makes it easy to prioritize work into 4 simple buckets.

How to prioritize projects

Here’s how to handle each priority bucket:

  • Priority 1—Urgent and important: Will a project keep business from screeching to a halt? Is there a hard deadline you can’t afford to miss? Do these projects first.
  • Priority 2—Not urgent but important: Schedule time to continue progress on projects that don’t have an immediate deadline but matter to the business just the same.
  • Priority 3—Urgent but not important: These projects may call for quick attention but don’t serve overall business goals. If work like this can’t wait, try delegating it.
  • Priority 4—Not urgent and not important: Don’t be afraid to give these projects the boot so you can free up time and resources for more worthy work.

3. Assess your own bandwidth

So what do you do if you end up with 3 urgent and important projects? If a hard deadline doesn’t declare the winner, then weigh the effort each top-priority project will take.

At TeamGantt, we like tackling bigger projects first. That way, everything feels like a quick win after that. But if clearing simple projects out of the way makes it easier for you to focus on a more complex one, go for it.

Just be aware that stacking heavyweight projects up back-to-back can be a quick drain on project energy. Try alternating big projects with small ones when possible to keep your team fresh and motivated.

4. Learn to say no to projects

Let’s set the record straight: No is not a bad word. In fact, those two little letters can make or break your ability to succeed as a project manager.

As odd as it may sound, saying yes to every single project request is a recipe for risk. Taking on more than you can handle not only runs your team into the ground—it can also leave your client fuming over missed deadlines and subpar results.

While saying no might require you to have a tough conversation, it protects your ability to deliver on the projects that matter most. And rest assured: You can turn a client or stakeholder down without closing the door completely. It might simply mean delegating tasks to another team that has the resources to get the work done on time.

5. Be flexible with the project prioritization process

If you’ve spent any time in project management, you know this: Things change. A project that was once urgent and important might be trumped by an emergency that pops up. A stakeholder may decide a project doesn’t bring business value anymore. A key player could get sick unexpectedly, putting a dent in your team’s bandwidth.

As project manager, you can either bend or you can break. It’s your job to stay alert and constantly reassess project priorities so you can adjust your team’s focus as needed. Learn why having a plan can help you with that.

Prioritize work quickly and easily with TeamGantt

The hardest part of the prioritization process is figuring out what’s worth your team’s time and committing to only the most valuable, urgent, and important projects. Once you’ve decided where to focus your energy, you’re ready to put together a plan and start knocking out work.

And that’s where TeamGantt can help lighten your load. With TeamGantt, you can stay nimble as priorities shift—and keep your team and stakeholders informed—so nothing falls through the cracks and everyone’s happy with the outcome.

The easiest way to build a project plan

You can build a beautiful project plan in just 10 minutes. Best of all, you can easily switch between gantt, calendar, and list views in a single click.

How to prioritize projects

Prioritize better with TeamGantt

TeamGantt allows you to get better visibility into the state of your work and your teams workload to help you prioritize better.

How to prioritize projects

The wrong priorities lead to bad decisions.

The wrong priorities lead to bad decisions.

Every organization needs what I call a “hierarchy of purpose.” Without one, it is almost impossible to prioritize effectively.

When I first joined BNP Paribas Fortis, for example, two younger and more dynamic banks had just overtaken us. Although we had been a market leader for many years, our new products had been launched several months later than the competition — in fact, our time to market had doubled over the previous three years. Behind that problem was a deeper one: We had more than 100 large projects (each worth over 500,000 euros) under way. No one had a clear view of the status of those investments, or even the anticipated benefits. The bank was using a project management tool, but the lack of discipline in keeping it up to date made it largely fruitless. Capacity, not strategy, was determining which projects launched and when. If people were available, the project was launched. If not, it stalled or was killed.

Prioritization at a strategic and operational level is often the difference between success and failure. But many organizations do it badly.

Take another real example: a postal service company delivering packages to customers. Like many other postal services, the company has been struggling to survive in an era of increasing competition and digital substitutes. Senior leaders gathered employees together at a series of town hall events where the CEO asked them to focus on two operational priorities: efficiency (reducing delivery times) and customer satisfaction (ensuring customers had a good experience).

One employee, Mary, got the message. And it worked fine until she was out delivering packages and was met at the door by an elderly man who asked her to come in and talk for a while. Mary’s natural inclination was to spend a little time with the lonely old man. It would be a kind thing to do, and surely it would also increase customer satisfaction. But then she froze. What about efficiency? If she spent even a few minutes chatting with her customer, her delivery times would suffer. What was she meant to do? Thousands of employees at this company were facing similar trade-offs every day.

The predicament is a typical one. The senior management of the postal company thought they had communicated clear priorities, but in fact they had created an operational dilemma that resulted from strategic confusion.

Contrast this with other successful companies. The European budget airline Ryanair, for example, is absolutely clear that it is a no-frills operation where efficiency is the operational priority — and efficiency takes precedence over customer service. The people who work for Ryanair know what the priority is, and thus know how to allocate their time on the job.

Prioritizing increases the success rates of strategic projects, increases the alignment and focus of senior management teams around strategic goals, clears all doubts for the operational teams when faced with decisions, and, most important, builds an execution mindset and culture.

Of course, sometimes leaders simply make the wrong decisions; they prioritize the wrong thing. But in my 20 years as an executive, the problem I see more often is that leaders don’t make decisions at all. They don’t clearly signal their intent about what matters. In short, they don’t prioritize.

Among the organizations I have worked with — and others, such as Apple, Amazon, Lego, Ikea, and Western Union, that have highly developed senses of priorities — the payoffs are considerable. Companies that start prioritizing can experience significant reductions in costs (in my experience, roughly 15%) as less-vital activities are cut and duplicated efforts are consolidated.

The number of priorities admitted to by an organization is revealing. It is notable that if the risk appetite of a senior executive team is very low (or if they are not able or inclined to make the tough choices), they will tend to have a generous portfolio of priorities; they don’t want to take the risk of not being compliant, missing a market opportunity, not having the latest technologies, and so on. But in my experience, the most successful executives tend to be more risk taking and have a laser-like focus on a small number of priorities. These executives know what matters today and tomorrow. At the extreme, this might mean simply having a single priority. The more focus, the better.

The Hierarchy of Purpose

I have over 20 years of experience in prioritizing, selecting, and managing projects. In that time, I have developed a simple framework that I call the “Hierarchy of Purpose.” It is a tool that executive teams can use to help them prioritize strategic initiatives and projects:

  • Purpose. What is the purpose of the organization and how is that purpose best pursued? What is the strategic vision supporting this purpose?
  • Priorities. Given the stated purpose and vision, what matters most to the organization now and in the future? What are its priorities now and over the next two to five years?
  • Projects. Based on the answers to the first two points, which projects are the most strategic and should be resourced to the hilt? Which projects align with the purpose, vision, and priorities, and which should be stopped or scrapped?
  • People. Now that there is clarity around the strategic priorities and the projects that matter most, who are the best people to execute on those projects?
  • Performance. Traditionally, project performance indicators are tied to inputs (e.g., scope, cost, and time). They are much easier to track than outputs (such as benefits, impact, and goals). However, despite the difficulty companies have in tracking outputs, it’s the outputs that really matter. What are the precise outcome-related targets that will measure real performance and value creation? Reduce your attention to inputs and focus on those instead.

At best, prioritizing enhances the strategic dialogue and the alignment at the top of the organization, from where it is then cascaded to the rest of the organization. Once you lead the executive team to understand this, priorities become embedded in the organization and its corporate culture.

Think of your organization’s priorities. Are all of your diverse activities prioritized in the best interests of the organization as a whole? What is the best use of the organization’s existing and future financial and operational capacities? How would your priorities change in case of a sudden economic downturn?

A well-communicated sense of organizational priorities helps to align most of the projects and programs in an organization to its strategies. But the reality of an organization is much more complex than many suggest. Sometimes the strategic objectives are not clear, or are nonexistent. Often there is a gap and lack of alignment between the corporate strategic objectives and the ones from the different business units, departments, or functions.

In reality, it is impossible to match all of an organization’s projects and programs to strategic objectives. Ensuring that at least the most important projects and programs — let’s say the top 20 — are fully aligned with the strategic objectives is more achievable.

By applying the Hierarchy of Purpose, executives learn that changing priorities is a fact of organizational life. Indeed, every time an organization stops a priority, the organization becomes more focused. Every terminated priority is an opportunity to learn and do better next time. Priorities change and, if managed successfully, have the capacity to fundamentally change organizations, but only if top management makes tough choices.

One of the really big challenges any organization faces is aligning strategy with the actions and projects it takes on. In small organizations, the choice to pursue one action or another can be due to the constant need to ensure that payroll is met and that the organization is able to keep moving forward. On the other hand, in larger organizations, there can be a huge divide between the strategic leadership and the tactical execution in the project management roles.

As I’ve written about before on this site, there are are steps you can take to align your project to strategy . In any sized organization, there are some simple ways that you can effectively combine your strategy and the ability of your project teams to set some clear priorities that can combine the strategic vision of the organization with the ability of your teams to meet those demands.

How to prioritize projects

1. Use Your Current Projects As A Marker

As a leader in your organization, it is essential that you spend a little time reflecting on where you and your organization are before you start taking on any new project.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

As your company evolves, you are going to always be strapped with limited resources in the form of not enough time, not enough money, or not enough people. This is true in almost every organization, big or small.

The real challenge arises when you don’t step back and understand that this real constraint on your organization can cause you to be ineffective and is something you can control.

So how do you quell the rush to take on any project at any time with the need to use your project management teams as tools for your strategic achievement?

You use your current portfolio of projects as a marker that can illustrate how your resources are allocated at that moment and can give you a snapshot into whether or not your projects align with your strategy.

Here are a few steps to make sure you are doing this correctly:

  • Spend a few minutes mapping out all of your projects and initiatives.
  • Do all of these projects fit under your strategic vision?
  • Does the new project or projects fit in this strategic framework?
  • Do we have the necessary time, people, or other resources we need to make this successful?

If you are able to answer yes to all of these questions, you can push forward. If you are answering no to a lot of these questions, it is likely that you need to do some serious thinking about what you are doing and why you are doing it.

2. Set Clear Goals and Objectives To Maintain Focus

It won’t be enough to just sit down and identify your projects, their fit in the organization’s strategy, and to ensure that they are all working in the right direction. It is essential that you and your team focus on setting clear goals and objectives that will enable you to maintain the focus that is required for long-term success.

First, by this point, you should have identified if you have the necessary resources to complete this project effectively. And that will help you with setting goals and objectives.

But here are a few steps that you can use as a guide to help clear up what you are really attempting to achieve with your projects and the strategy:

  • What are the timelines you are operating under for the various projects? Because you are looking at a holistic project organization, it is important that you not just account for the resources you have available but you should use these resources as a way to maximize each of them. This means that you need to use your calendar as a weapon. So identify the timelines you are operating under schedule activities and milestones accordingly.
  • Staff and manage your people with the same intention: You have the time and deadlines laid out, now you need to also look at your people. A critical aspect of scheduling is how to most effectively place your people in the proper places at the right time to maximize their productivity. So look at the pieces of your project puzzles and manage and schedule with an eye on productivity.
  • Measure and lay out your metrics for success: I always preach beginning with the end in mind and in the context of strategic success, this is even more important. So when you are setting clear goals and objectives, make sure that they are tied to specific metrics that will indicate that you are moving in the right direction. Try to make these as specific as possible and manage them aggressively so that you know when or if an intervention needs to be made to get the project back on track.

3. Manage your projects aggressively

The final key for aligning strategy and project management to achieve the highest priorities is to make sure you manage your projects aggressively. So that you are constantly focusing and refocusing on your key areas of impact, the long range strategy of the organization, and that your resources are aligned in the most beneficial manner.

In many organizations, the project management muscles need to be built and the focus on a consistent project management culture is a consistent point of emphasis.

To maximize the success of your strategic efforts, a project management focus is essential. Without the impact of execution, the strategic mindfulness never moves to performance.

A lot of what occurs in the second step will lead to stronger project management culture within your organization, but here is a 6-step framework that you can use as a tool to guide and encourage the adaptation of a strong project culture:

  • Define the job in detail: Focus on the specific outcomes you want to achieve. Then define the outcomes you want in detail.
  • Get the right people involved: People make the project and as much as possible, you need to ensure that you have the right people in the right places at the right time.
  • Time and Costs: Dig deep into your timeline to make sure that you are going to have the necessary time, money, and people for your project. Then, budget for all three of these resources accordingly.
  • Break the job into pieces: Each project is a collection of activities, milestones, and markers. You should have a rough idea of what each of these things looks like. This will help you tremendously when it comes to managing your three critical resources.
  • Plan For Change: One challenge a lot of organizations face when they begin more aggressively using project management principles is that they have no process for change. This leads down the road of poor project performance and projects that don’t achieve their needed outcomes.
  • Acceptance/Lessons Learned/Renewal: If you have been following the first five steps, you are going to begin to see consistency in the delivery of projects. Since you have set outcome-based goals at the beginning of the project, the acceptance criteria is straightforward. An additional step comes in the form of taking the things you learned and applying them to renewing your project management culture on a consistent basis by never wedding yourself to outdated tools, techniques, and actions.

While I have no doubt that each project and organization has a great deal of individuality to them, these simple ideas can help your organization improve on its ability to focus on strategic projects, set priorities, and establish a culture of project management that will help you deliver on the promise of your organizational strategy.

How to prioritize projects

By Jibility co-founder Chuen Seet

A surprising number of organizations are woefully inadequate at using a prioritization matrix for their projects or initiatives.

Less surprisingly, prioritization done well can be the difference between success and failure — which makes it all the more mystifying when so many don’t have a firm handle on prioritization.

We’ve seen that most organizations are capable of creating a list of projects or initiatives based on a strategic vision or set of goals. However, they then spend insufficient attention on building a prioritization matrix for these initiatives. Instead, they dive straight into implementation. This will always put the success of the strategic vision at risk.

Evaluating and prioritizing is vital.

Evaluate your Initiatives

Classic Spreadsheets

The go-to evaluation method for many organizations is a simple spreadsheet. There’s nothing wrong with this — but you can easily transform it into something far more visual and quick to interpret.

The Prioritization Matrix

A more effective (yet still simple) method for prioritizing initiatives is the two-by-two (2×2) prioritization matrix. With the matrix, you plot initiatives into one of the four quadrants by evaluating their value and risk.

The resulting visualization is a far more compelling tool for building consensus and identifying the initiatives that just aren’t quite right.

How to prioritize projects

Defining Value and Risk

Using value and risk as the evaluation criteria is key to substantiating where initiatives should sit in the list of priorities. However, these are subjective terms.

The complexity of how you evaluate the value and risk of an initiative is up to you, relative to the level of sophistication and accuracy required and effort afforded. Just ensure that you are consistent and apply the same definition of value and risk when evaluating each initiative.

How do you determine an initiative’s value?

The measures of an initiative’s value are usually tied to your organization’s value drivers. Each organization’s value drivers can vary vastly; for example, the value drivers of a non-profit (e.g. saving lives) are very different from those of a publicly listed bank (e.g. shareholder return).

There are too many measures of value to list, but here are three definitions of value which are commonly applied to prioritization of initiatives:

Strategic Value

Assuming your strategic goals are right, then the initiatives most aligned with these will deliver higher value.

Customer Value

The more the initiative increases the value proposition to your customers, the higher the value.

Financial Value

An initiative has more value when it positively impacts the organization’s preferred financial measures, e.g. profit, revenue, margin, cashflow, funds, etc.

How do you determine an initiative’s risk?

There are two common considerations when evaluating an initiative’s risk:

Delivery Risk

The delivery risk of an initiative assesses the potential impact of implementing it based on complexity, effort and cost. At the initial planning stage, this will probably be your best guestimate, as you are unlikely to have a good understanding of the complexity, effort or cost early on.

Business Risk

Business risk takes into account the risk of not implementing an initiative in addition to the risks of implementing it (delivery risk). For example, failing to implement a business change required to meet legislative compliance requirements can be a significant risk to the organization’s licence to operate.

Prioritize the Evaluated Initiatives on the 2×2 Prioritization Matrix

Priority Categories

Once you have determined an initiative’s value and risk, you can plot it on the 2×2 prioritization matrix in relation to all the other initiatives. The quadrant into which it falls should help to determine the priority for its investment or implementation. To this end, the quadrants are labelled Challenge, Implement, Possible and Reconsider (clockwise from top left).

How to prioritize projects

Confirm your Priorities

If you imagine a series of curved bands radiating from the top right corner towards the bottom left corner, then working from left to right and top to bottom is generally the priority order for your initiatives.

With your initiatives thus prioritized in a logical and reasoned manner, you’re in good stead to start planning the implementation and delivery of each initiative to reach your strategic goals.

How to prioritize projects

A Free Tool with a Prioritization Matrix

Jibility is a free SaaS product for building strategy roadmaps, of which the prioritization matrix is a key component. Our interactive matrix makes it easy to plot your initiatives and highlight the priorities, with all changes you make flowing through the other steps of the app to keep everything in sync.

Within most large organizations – as well as smaller businesses – time and resources are in short supply yet high demand, making project selection more difficult. Evaluating and prioritizing projects can be complex, but this vital first step can negatively impact the business if not assessed carefully.

Contributing writer, CIO |

Regardless of business size, industry or structure, many projects today are unfortunately still selected and initiated in a siloed department-by-department manner, without considering the overall strategic impact. What are the risks of initiating projects in this manner? Businesses run the risk of more than one area competing for the same project resources, including people and technologies, and also conflicting deadlines and goals. They may even risk some project outcomes negatively impacting other areas of the business.

All too often every department or unit deems their projects a top priority. The bad news is unless a business has unlimited resources, time and no real clear direction, it is impossible to assess all projects as top priority. The good news is, there are some proven strategies for evaluating and prioritizing projects.

1. Become involved in strategic level planning

The first step for a program, portfolio or project manager is to become involved in strategic level planning. Sit down with the leadership team to gain a full understanding of the direction of the business, the timing, and their overall vision; there is no such thing as too much detail here.

This may require more than one strategic planning session, and will provide valuable insights to help guide decision-making for programs, portfolios, and projects. Consider this similar to a roadmap or blueprint that will not only mark the desired destination but also provide additional markers along the way to follow, to help confirm if you are navigating in the right direction.

2. Identify project drivers

Projects can be driven by various factors like some of the ones below. Some of these drivers may motivate a business to initiate a project for the purpose of creating or enhancing something, meeting a requirement or hurdle, reducing the risk, removing an existing or potential problem, increasing revenues, offering an opportunity not previously available or simply streamlining a process. Talk with management to identify which of the following drivers are motivating each proposed project.

  • Competitive advantage
  • Cost savings/financial benefit
  • Operational efficiency/process improvement
  • Legislative/legal/ tax implications
  • Improving quality
  • Risk reduction
  • Growth/ business opportunities

3. Quantify strategic value

Ask management to discuss the various projects they are considering to determine the impact and desired project outcomes. This will help to better understand and quantify the strategic value, immediate and/or long-term impact as well as anticipated benefits of each project being considered. The risks of not starting certain projects on schedule will also have to be weighed carefully. For instance, some projects may be of great strategic value, and add numerous benefits, yet may not be top priority when compared to another project driven by legal, tax or legislative requirements.

4. Determine factors that may impact project success

Additional factors that should carefully be considered are the return on investment (ROI), budgeted funds, available resources, and timing, and if there are any dependencies or limitations (among other factors). Company budgets and timing are almost always limited, making it impossible to take on all project ideas conceived. Some projects may need to be put on hold if they depend on the successful outcomes of other projects, or there may be factors outside of the business’s control that could delay or prevent the success of one or more projects.

5. Create an evaluation and prioritization matrix

Once you have gathered all the applicable information from management and other sources, create a project evaluation and prioritization matrix to identify and rate each project in terms of criteria. Use a weighted scale (for example 1 to 5, with 1 = very low, 2 = low, 3 = medium, 4 = high, 5 = critical) to put a rating on each of the criteria in order to accurately evaluate the priority of each project.

6. Close the loop

After projects have been carefully weighted and prioritized, before initiating any of the projects sit down again with management and review the project evaluation and prioritization matrix, and any other findings, to ensure expectations are clear with all parties involved. This allows management an additional opportunity for added input, and to confirm if they are in agreement with your findings.

How to prioritize projects

By Jibility co-founder Chuen Seet

A surprising number of organizations are woefully inadequate at using a prioritization matrix for their projects or initiatives.

Less surprisingly, prioritization done well can be the difference between success and failure — which makes it all the more mystifying when so many don’t have a firm handle on prioritization.

We’ve seen that most organizations are capable of creating a list of projects or initiatives based on a strategic vision or set of goals. However, they then spend insufficient attention on building a prioritization matrix for these initiatives. Instead, they dive straight into implementation. This will always put the success of the strategic vision at risk.

Evaluating and prioritizing is vital.

Evaluate your Initiatives

Classic Spreadsheets

The go-to evaluation method for many organizations is a simple spreadsheet. There’s nothing wrong with this — but you can easily transform it into something far more visual and quick to interpret.

The Prioritization Matrix

A more effective (yet still simple) method for prioritizing initiatives is the two-by-two (2×2) prioritization matrix. With the matrix, you plot initiatives into one of the four quadrants by evaluating their value and risk.

The resulting visualization is a far more compelling tool for building consensus and identifying the initiatives that just aren’t quite right.

How to prioritize projects

Defining Value and Risk

Using value and risk as the evaluation criteria is key to substantiating where initiatives should sit in the list of priorities. However, these are subjective terms.

The complexity of how you evaluate the value and risk of an initiative is up to you, relative to the level of sophistication and accuracy required and effort afforded. Just ensure that you are consistent and apply the same definition of value and risk when evaluating each initiative.

How do you determine an initiative’s value?

The measures of an initiative’s value are usually tied to your organization’s value drivers. Each organization’s value drivers can vary vastly; for example, the value drivers of a non-profit (e.g. saving lives) are very different from those of a publicly listed bank (e.g. shareholder return).

There are too many measures of value to list, but here are three definitions of value which are commonly applied to prioritization of initiatives:

Strategic Value

Assuming your strategic goals are right, then the initiatives most aligned with these will deliver higher value.

Customer Value

The more the initiative increases the value proposition to your customers, the higher the value.

Financial Value

An initiative has more value when it positively impacts the organization’s preferred financial measures, e.g. profit, revenue, margin, cashflow, funds, etc.

How do you determine an initiative’s risk?

There are two common considerations when evaluating an initiative’s risk:

Delivery Risk

The delivery risk of an initiative assesses the potential impact of implementing it based on complexity, effort and cost. At the initial planning stage, this will probably be your best guestimate, as you are unlikely to have a good understanding of the complexity, effort or cost early on.

Business Risk

Business risk takes into account the risk of not implementing an initiative in addition to the risks of implementing it (delivery risk). For example, failing to implement a business change required to meet legislative compliance requirements can be a significant risk to the organization’s licence to operate.

Prioritize the Evaluated Initiatives on the 2×2 Prioritization Matrix

Priority Categories

Once you have determined an initiative’s value and risk, you can plot it on the 2×2 prioritization matrix in relation to all the other initiatives. The quadrant into which it falls should help to determine the priority for its investment or implementation. To this end, the quadrants are labelled Challenge, Implement, Possible and Reconsider (clockwise from top left).

How to prioritize projects

Confirm your Priorities

If you imagine a series of curved bands radiating from the top right corner towards the bottom left corner, then working from left to right and top to bottom is generally the priority order for your initiatives.

With your initiatives thus prioritized in a logical and reasoned manner, you’re in good stead to start planning the implementation and delivery of each initiative to reach your strategic goals.

How to prioritize projects

A Free Tool with a Prioritization Matrix

Jibility is a free SaaS product for building strategy roadmaps, of which the prioritization matrix is a key component. Our interactive matrix makes it easy to plot your initiatives and highlight the priorities, with all changes you make flowing through the other steps of the app to keep everything in sync.

How to prioritize projects

You know you’re a project manager when…

  • Everything is vitally important
  • There’s never enough time in the day to finish everything that needs to be done

As counterproductive as it sounds, too many companies select and initiate projects in a siloed manner. Everything is decided on a department by department basis with no idea of the general strategic impact, making it difficult for the proverbial left hand to know what the right hand is doing, and vice-versa. When projects are planned and launched in this manner, you can count on the following problems:

  • Multiple projects competing for the same resources, such as staff and technologies
  • Goals and deadlines clashing

It’s frustrating, but in today’s business climate, it’s also the natural order of things. As a project manager, it’s your job to manage the team’s workload and meet deadlines. These eight tips can show you how to prioritize projects so that delays are the exception instead of the norm and achieving business objectives is no longer a balancing act.

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1. Get a Project Overview

If you want to make informed decisions, you require the big picture. This is where project management software like Toggl Plan can help. Toggl Plan includes visual planning resources like Gantt charts , which provide color-coded, easy-to-follow timelines. You can review project status at a glance, making it easier to allocate resources in a priority manner. As goals shift, you can react quickly and focus your team’s energy on whatever project is the most urgent.

How to prioritize projects

2. Assemble Deadlines

When you receive yet another project, open whatever project management software you use and input the new assignment’s requirements, recommended resources, and deadline. In this case, noting the deadline is the crucial part. Projects with a more imminent due date should be given priority unless your supervisor or the client has indicated that the deadline is flexible.

3. Assess Project Value

When you’re juggling multiple urgent projects, you have to consider how the results of each one will benefit your company. For example, projects for a client who accounts for one-third of the company’s billings will typically carry more weight than a one-time initiative with a minimal financial reward.

Open your project management software, look at each assignment on your plate and ask yourself how much value it delivers to your company. Remember that value is a relative term: while many businesses give their bottom line top priority, others emphasize customer service or employee satisfaction and efficiency. You may need to have a conversation with upper management to get the insights needed to assess project value accurately.

4. Identify What Needs to Be Done Now

Some projects are more urgent or carry more weight than others. An urgent project needed to be done yesterday, figuratively speaking. An important one still has a certain level of priority but isn’t as critical.

Urgency can also apply to individual tasks within your projects. As you review each timeline, see if any high-priority dependencies require immediate completion of a particular task. If failure to do something will have significant negative consequences, such as a missed product launch date or a lost opportunity to appear in a prestigious industry publication, give that responsibility your immediate attention.

How to prioritize projects

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5. Prioritize Tasks By Effort

If you have multiple tasks that all seem to have equal priority, rank them in order of estimated completion time. Depending on which productivity expert you ask, it’s beneficial to either get more difficult tasks off your plate first or check smaller tasks off your list to build a sense of momentum before you throw yourself and your team into something more time-consuming. There’s no right and wrong way to do this step- let your personal work style be your guide.

6. Communicate with Team Members and Stakeholders

Having a conversation with team members , company management, and even the client (if multiple projects are for the same stakeholder) can yield the information you need to rank project or task priority more effectively. Using reports and visual aids generated by your preferred project management software, present your recommendations, get their feedback on your conclusions, and make adjustments that support efficiency.

7. Be Flexible

Project management is a field where you can expect the unexpected at any time. A task or even entire project can lose its urgency in a split second for many reasons. Perhaps a critical team member falls sick or leaves the company, putting everything on hold until you locate a replacement. Maybe the client wants to make changes to improve the business value of the project. Whatever the reason, you need to be alert and flexible enough to assess the new workscape, decide what steps need to be taken to remain on deadline for still-active projects, and create a new action plan.

How to prioritize projects

8. Beware of Saboteurs

When you’re trying to prioritize your projects, beware of people who can derail your efforts , intentionally or otherwise. They include:

  • The micromanagers who keep changing their mind and tend to add two weeks of extra work on projects due in two days.
  • Well-meaning team members who insist on changing some aspect of the project at the last minute to follow a new standard they “just read about”.
  • Individuals with agendas who want you to prioritize a project solely because it benefits them personally.

How you deal with these individuals will depend on your relationship to them (you don’t want to indulge in an extended headbutting session with your boss), but any priorities that don’t support the success of the company or the client need to be disregarded or negotiated.

As a project manager, one of your most significant challenges will always be accurately prioritizing your work. You may have powerful project management tools, but you’re still the one who has to make the decisions. Not every project can be a top priority. In the end, knowing how to prioritize projects calls for equal measures of experience, understanding, and intuition. When you let them guide your final decisions, you’re more likely to get the best results for the client, your team, and yourself.

If there is a universal problem the majority of (project) managers struggle with today, it’s time.

And as a result, the way that we use our available time to properly prioritize tasks.

How often have you said one of the following:

  • “I wish I had one more hour in the day.”
  • “The day is not long enough for everything we need to accomplish.”
  • “We’re putting in the work, but there’s never enough time.”

When it comes to projects, all of these matter very little. No matter what, you have to complete that project in time.

Even when time is hard to come by.

In this article, we’re going to show you how to prioritize tasks with the best task prioritization methods.

Not only will you complete your projects in time, but you’ll also deal with less stress than before.

Ready? Let’s take a look!

Task Prioritization When Everything Is Important

Task prioritization and time management in project teams can get really messy without a reliable process.

Project managers usually juggle their own tasks while juggling their entire team’s tasks.

And to individual team members, their tasks are the priority.

However, you as the project manager have to set your own – and general project priorities.

It sure looks like tasks are streaming in from all over; from legal to IT departments.

And in that case, the most important thing you can do to prioritize is capture all the tasks first.

You can use a simple to-do list for this, and just add on to it. If you’re using task management software, you can create an automated process.

Different team members add their tasks, and you just assign them and prioritize accordingly.

Break down your tasks to the simplest activities.

For example, if you have a task that says: “make an app,” that doesn’t really explain all the work that goes into making an app.

Instead, break it down so it looks more like:

  • Front-end design
  • Back-end design
  • Wire frames

Make sure you understand task dependencies.

This is the part of the process where you can see the influence of task prioritization on time management.

When you understand which tasks are dependent on others, you’ll be able to create a much more efficient schedule.

Otherwise, you’re running the risk of trying to do everything at once, only to realize that the most important tasks haven’t been completed.

When you know the order and the specifics of the tasks you need to complete, it’s time to turn to task prioritization methods.

Free Project Plan Template in Excel

Click to download our Free Project Plan Template in Excel to begin simplifying your project management.

How to prioritize projects

The Best Methods for Project Managers to Prioritize Tasks

When you have all your tasks in one place, it’s time to prioritize and organize, AKA: get things done.

And speaking of that…

1. GTD: “Getting Things Done” Task Prioritization Method

Getting Things Done (GTD) is a productivity method developed by David Allen.

It centers around the idea that your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.

So you must have a method of capturing the ideas and tasks and storing them for review and prioritizing at a later time.

After capturing all your tasks and turning them into actionable items, it’s time to organize them.

With GTD, this takes place through the so-called decision tree.

You’ll ask yourself questions necessary to prioritize one task over others:

How to prioritize projects

GTD first sorts non-actionable tasks into three categories:

  • Trash – Scrap these tasks, they don’t matter.
  • Reference – These tasks contain valuable information, but there is nothing to act on at the moment.
  • Someday/maybe – These tasks don’t have to be completed right now, but they might have to be completed at some point. This is your backlog.

Then, it’s time to sort actionable tasks:

  • Right away – If you can complete tasks in one step, complete them right away and mark them as a priority.
  • Waiting-For – If you’ve assigned tasks to other team members, add them to the Waiting-For list.
  • Next-Action – If you don’t have to complete actions on multi-step tasks right away, add them to this list.
  • Calendar – If your task has a deadline, add it to the calendar.

2. “Eat That Frog” Method of Prioritizing Tasks

Eat That Frog is a method that requires strategic planning.

The name of this prioritization method comes from Mark Twain’s saying:

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.

And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

What this really means is that you should complete the most important tasks first.

At the beginning of every day (or period), you have to identify your objectives and assess your task list from that perspective:

  • If you have to complete important but complex tasks, complete them first thing.
  • After you’ve eaten the biggest frog, complete other tasks.

Prioritize carefully according to your objectives.

Your frog is the most important task on your list.

3. ABCDE Method

The ABCDE method is one of the best ways to prioritize tasks.

Essentially, your “task alphabet” starts with A: the highest priorities.

Then, you sort other tasks according to the following method:

  • A – high priority
  • B – medium priority
  • C – low priority tasks
  • D – delegate to other team members
  • E – eliminate

How to prioritize projects

If you want to supercharge your efficiency, you can also take a page out of Stephen Covey’s book, who additionally sorts the ABCDE tasks according to urgency and importance.