Project Management

Project Prioritization: Definition, Examples and Practical Tips 

Mindaugas Gluchovskis ·

2019 - Present Marketing specialist Innovative content marketeer with MSc in International Communication, Mindaugas brings fresh ideas and inspiration about project management and beyond.

poject prioritization

As project managers, we often find ourselves at the crossroads of competing demands, forced to make tough decisions about where to allocate our limited time and resources.   

Should you focus on quick wins to gain momentum, or dive headfirst into the biggest projects first? In this dilemma, let’s pause for a moment and reconsider. 

Chasing quick wins may feel good in the moment, but it often results in a scattered approach with little long-term impact. Similarly, prioritizing big projects upfront is ambitious but not always the most effective strategy. 

So, what’s the alternative? The answer lies in project prioritization. 

In this post, I’m not just going to leave you hanging with abstract theories. We’ll explore prioritization terms, methods, and tools you need to make informed decisions. By the time we’re done, you’ll be ready to conquer any challenge that comes your way. 

Why and when do you need to start considering prioritization? 

According to PMI research, projects aligned with the company’s strategy are 57% more likely to succeed.  As McKinsey report points out, poor project prioritization can be disastrous. Their study shows that companies prioritizing strategically are worth 40% more than those that don’t.

In other words, proper project prioritization ensures that your organization doesn’t fall behind.

Yet, for various reasons, understanding and choosing prioritization methods remains challenging for many organizations. This results in inefficient investments and strategic misalignment. 

The sheer number of open projects within an organization can be overwhelming, especially when competing internal criteria further complicate the prioritization process. Additionally, human biases, such as the planning fallacy, reluctance to say no, and a craving for control, subtly undermine effective prioritization. 

This is when you should be thinking about project prioritization. 

project management templates
Project prioritization example

Project prioritization ensures the proper allocation of resources, including people, equipment, time, and financial resources. Project prioritization involves using various techniques to decide the importance and order of projects, which we will cover next.   

Strategic alignment and challenges 

Prioritization problems often come from deeper strategic issues, like not having clear criteria. 

The lack of clear criteria for project prioritization can make it difficult for decision-makers to assess the importance and impact of different projects. At this stage, you need to ask how well they align with the organization’s overarching goals and objectives? 

I recommend starting by establishing a clear set of prioritization criteria. Criteria should align with short- and long-term goals. For instance: 

  • Consider “organizational goals” to ensure project alignment with company objectives. 
  • Evaluate “expected benefits” to prioritize projects with the highest potential return. 
  • Assess “cost” to optimize resource allocation and financial investment. 
  • Analyze “risk” to prioritize projects with manageable risks and mitigate negative impacts. 

Lastly, stakeholder needs shouldn’t be forgotten. Factors like multiple stakeholders with differing priorities, resource constraints, and external deadlines can complicate the prioritization process. 

When prioritization derails: What do you do next?

Well, you know what they say about plans – they’re as sturdy as a house of cards in a hurricane! So how do you smoothly navigate the transition when project priorities change unexpectedly?

Begin by understanding the reasons behind the change and reassessing your tasks accordingly. Adapt your workload to align with the new priorities and maintain a positive outlook. Concentrate on the aspects within your control and manage your energy efficiently. Seek advice from supervisors, ensure alignment with stakeholders regarding the new priorities, and set realistic expectations.

Prioritization and KPIs 

project prioritization
Project prioritization

KPIs are crucial in prioritization because they use data to align tasks with goals and ensure efficient resource use. Select the KPIs that will drive progress. Aligning KPIs with strategic goals and regularly reviewing and updating them ensures project benchmarks’ relevance, accuracy, and effectiveness. 

Common KPIs for prioritizing projects: 

  • Budget or Financial KPIs: Compare actual expenditure to the estimated baseline, ensuring projects stay within or near budget. 
  • Timeline KPIs: Track project progress, indicating if projects are ahead, behind, or on schedule. 
  • Effectiveness KPIs: Measure productivity and efficiency in resource utilization and project management. 
  • Quality KPIs: Assess project deliverable quality, ensuring they meet expectations, design, function, and stakeholder satisfaction. 

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Project prioritization techniques 

There is a number of processes and techniques that can help you with making informed decisions. Lets look at some of these: 

1. Scoring model 

Scoring model is a flexible approach worth considering. It advanced to consider more than just financial benefits when prioritizing projects. Successful organizations now include factors like strategic alignment and customer impact in their prioritization process. 

Here’s how it works: 

  1. Choose three or four key criteria (e.g., benefits, risk, cost). 
  1. Assign ranges to rank projects (e.g., 0-5 or 0-10). 
  1. Allocate weights to prioritize criteria (e.g., risk over size). 
  1. Test the model with different teams for meaningful results. 

Using a scoring model for project prioritization promotes objectivity and alignment within your team. It also ensures consistency across initiatives and transparency for stakeholders, making decision-making clear and structured. 

2. Value vs effort matrix 

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Value vs Effort Matrix

The Value Effort Matrix is a project management and product development tool for prioritizing tasks or features based on their impact versus effort. 

Benefits include optimizing time and resources, aligning priorities, and reducing wasted effort. 

To use the matrix, assign each task a value for impact and effort, then prioritize tasks accordingly. It visually guides teams to focus on high-impact, low-effort tasks first, though subjective scoring can be a limitation. 

3. Eisenhower matrix 

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Eisenhower matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix, or Urgent-Important Matrix, is a time management tool named after Dwight D. Eisenhower. It sorts tasks into four quadrants: 

  • Do First (Urgent & Important): Immediate tasks. 
  • Schedule (Important, but Not Urgent): Future planning. 
  • Delegate (Urgent, but Not Important): Suitable for delegation. 
  • Don’t Do (Not Urgent & Not Important): Tasks to avoid. 

It aids in prioritizing tasks, managing time efficiently, and boosting productivity. 

4. RICE method

RICE prioritization
RICE Prioritization on Teamhood

RICE, a popular method developed by Sean McBride for project managers and teams to evaluate and prioritize projects, can be effectively applied to handle urgent changes in project priorities.

This method helps prioritize projects by looking at four main factors: Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. It assigns numerical values to these factors to make decision-making easier. Reach measures how many users are affected, Impact shows the size of the change, Confidence checks the reliability of estimates, and Effort counts the resources needed for the project. 

The Kano model 

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Kano Model

The Kano Model, created by Dr. Noriaki Kano in 1984, is a way to prioritize features in product development based on what customers want and how satisfied they are. The Kano Model helps make better decisions on what to prioritize, and get everyone on the same page by focusing on customer needs and happiness. 

It sorts features into three main groups:  

  • Basic Features (what customers expect) 
  • Performance Features (which make customers happier) 
  • Delighters (unexpected extras that impress customers).  

Additionally, it identifies two types of features to steer clear of: “indifferent” features and “dissatisfaction” features. Understanding customer reactions to features allows product teams to prioritize tasks more effectively.  

Additionally, it identifies two types of features to steer clear of: “indifferent” features, which may not excite customers, and “dissatisfaction” features, which could leave them disappointed. With this method you can tailor a better task prioritization strategy for better outcomes. 

Prioritization practices 

Let’s get down to brass tacks with project prioritization using a prioritization matrix.  

Say you’re a product manager at a software company facing five potential projects. From improving payment systems to launching referral programs, you’ve got options. But how do you decide where to focus first? 

Plot each project on a grid based on impact and effort. High impact, low effort projects like implementing payment systems and SEO optimization should take priority.  

Next come high impact, high effort tasks like app redesign and dashboard development. Low impact projects, such as a referral program, can wait. Prioritization isn’t a one-time task; it’s an ongoing process. Break down each project, estimate timelines, and keep stakeholders informed about priorities.  

You can also experiment with Agile prioritization, aligning with methodologies such as Scrum or Kanban.  

Stick to a consistent framework, assessing projects based on impact and effort, but stay flexible to adapt as needed. Experiment with different methods to find what best suits your team and product, ensuring you’re always moving forward efficiently. 

Tips for successful project prioritization 

Alongside the methods we’ve covered, here are some important tips for prioritizing tasks and projects.  

Categorizing tasks into Must-Do, Should-Do, and Could-Do helps in focusing on what’s crucial while leaving room for less urgent matters.  Avoid jumping between the tasks to maintain productivity. Break down projects into smaller tasks and start with those that have longer lead times. Reflect on your process regularly to learn and improve. 

Lastly, remember to regularly reassess and adapt your approach based on evolving circumstances, ensuring you strike the right balance between structure and flexibility in managing your workload effectively. 

And remember, the goal of project prioritization is to stick to a clear system, communicate well, and focus on what matters most. 

Start Prioritizing Your Projects

With Visual Kanban Software

Get Started

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