Prioritization is the process of determining the relative importance and order of projects and tasks based on their significance, urgency and impact. It involves evaluating and ranking projects based on criteria such as:
Prioritization plays a crucial role in project management because it helps allocate and focus resources effectively, manage time efficiently, and focus efforts on the most critical and impactful areas to achieve the successful completion of critical projects to meet goals. Let’s dig into this further.
Why Prioritization is Important
Resource Allocation - Projects typically have limited resources (time, manpower) and prioritization helps allocate resources in a way that maximizes their impact. By identifying and prioritizing tasks based on their importance and urgency, project managers can ensure that resources are allocated to high-priority work, leading to better utilization and efficiency.
Tip: cross-reference prioritization in your capacity reports to ensure adequate time is both allocated and focused on key projects.
Time Management - Prioritization helps manage time effectively by identifying and focusing on tasks that are critical to project success and prevent time wasted on less important or non-essential tasks. By prioritizing tasks and setting realistic deadlines, project managers can ensure that time is allocated appropriately and that key milestones and deliverables are met.
Focus and Clarity - Prioritization provides clarity and focus to the project team. By clearly defining priorities, team members know where to direct their efforts and can align their activities accordingly.
Stakeholder Satisfaction - Prioritization ensures that project goals align with stakeholder expectations and requirements, and it can also help set expectations with your stakeholders depending on how a project is prioritized. By focusing on high-priority tasks that deliver the most value to stakeholders, project managers can enhance stakeholder satisfaction by maintaining positive relationships, gaining stakeholder support, and increasing the chances of project success.
Tip: Sometimes completing a lower priority project can be an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your stakeholder. Consider utilizing the downtime when your team is waiting for feedback. Just make sure it doesn’t negatively impact other work.
Adaptability - Prioritization allows project managers to adapt and respond to changing circumstances and evolving project needs. By regularly assessing priorities, project managers can make necessary adjustments to ensure alignment with changing goals, constraints, and stakeholder requirements. You don’t want someone continuing to treat a project as critical if it isn’t.
Dependencies and Sequencing - Prioritization helps identify both project and task dependencies and also establishes the sequence of these. By prioritizing tasks that serve as prerequisites or have dependencies on other tasks, project managers can ensure that a project progresses smoothly. This reduces bottlenecks and delays, improving overall project efficiency.
How to Implement Prioritization
If your situation requires a formal system, you can insert a prioritization task into your workflow (the initial prioritization assignment should be made during the Planning phase). However, the prioritization assignment of a project should be monitored during the life of the project as needs change and evolve. For example, a system could look something like this:
Start by identifying the criteria that your team considers important to evaluate a project (examples are listed in the first paragraph of this article). You’ll want to create a system that “scores” the project. For example: if each criterion is given a score from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), and you have 5 criteria, your prioritization system might look something like this:
With a minimum score of 5 (1 each) and a maximum score of 25 (5 each), projects are scored against the individual criterion and totaled. We can then use that “score” to output a prioritization ranking. Projects that score between 20-25 will be assigned a P1 because those criteria have been given a majority of high scores. For a P2 assignment, the range would be something like 14-19 points, and for those in the 5-13 range, they would be assigned a P3. I would argue that projects that score under 8, the team should question whether they should be taking them on at all.
Sidebar: you’ll notice that the ranges for each level are not evenly distributed. You don’t want too many projects to be the top priority. If everything is “hot,” nothing is hot.
Tip: Once you get a good handle on this scoring, I find totaling it up becomes laborious. Use your judgment. Projects can be prioritized from a “gut check.”
Alternatively, if your situation doesn’t require a formal system like the above, I suggest making yourself available to your team to help them prioritize. In some cases, if a team member has a lot on their plate, reach out and communicate milestones or work expectations for the day. While prioritizing projects or tasks may seem tough at first (and if you don’t know, you can always ask your stakeholders to help you prioritize) but once you dig in, and you start to recognize the criteria (like urgency and business goals), it’ll start feeling like second nature.
Prioritization, whether formal or informal, is essential in project management to effectively allocate resources, manage time, service stakeholders, adapt to changes, address task dependencies, maintain team focus, and make efficient decisions. By prioritizing projects and tasks, project managers can optimize project performance and increase the likelihood of delivering critical projects on time.
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