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✅ How to Prioritize Projects in 6 Easy Steps

By January 22, 2024 January 31st, 2024

Struggling to stay afloat in a sea of essential projects and wondering which one to tackle first?

You’re not alone! It’s a battle that all project managers have to contend with, often on an ongoing basis.

The Assist

Whether you’re juggling deadlines like a pro or feeling the pressure of multiple projects piling up, mastering the art of project prioritization is your ticket to a photo finish. If you need a helping hand to assign priorities correctly so you’re not wasting time or resources, we’ve got you covered.

This article will show you how to prioritize projects in 6 actionable steps.


What Is Project Prioritization?

how to prioritize projects

Project prioritization is a methodical approach to managing multiple projects with competing deadlines, ensuring that resources are allocated wisely and organizational goals are met efficiently.

It’s like juggling multiple balls in the air—which one will you catch first while ensuring the rest are still up in the air? You can’t drop any balls in the process, either.

When faced with an unending slew of projects, each requiring attention simultaneously, prioritization becomes critical to ensuring you’re achieving the results that matter at the right time.


Why Is Project Prioritization Important?

The Assist

Project prioritization has a critical role to play in successful project management for several important reasons:

  1. Optimize resource allocation – Project managers often have limited time, budget, technology, and staffing resources to manage multiple projects. Identifying the most critical project can help you optimize your resources so you don’t spread them too thin.
  1. Strategic alignment – Organizations typically have overarching goals and objectives to achieve. While not applicable to all situations, when you prioritize projects, you’re directing resources toward the tasks that move the needle closer to where the business wants to be.
  1. Risk Management – Projects come with inherent risks. Project prioritization can help project managers and team members identify and address high-impact risks early on. This, in turn, helps mitigate the risks before they escalate to the point of no return.
  1. Manage stakeholder expectations – Stakeholders prioritize delivering key milestones contributing to business goals. By delivering priority projects first, you can foster stakeholder trust and satisfaction.
  1. Return on Investment (ROI) – Prioritizing projects that provide the biggest business value, especially in terms of ROI, helps you make the best use of limited resources. In other words, it can help you deliver the biggest bang for the buck.
  1. Adaptability to change – One of the notable attributes of successful organizations is the ability to pivot quickly in response to shifts in market trends, economic shifts, disruptive technology, and other external factors. The most effective project managers can shift priorities to adapt to external changes with minimal impact on the bottom line.


How to Prioritize Projects in 6 Steps 

Prioritizing projects seems easier in theory. That’s why we’ve broken down the project prioritization process into six steps that you can implement right away with minimal to no fuss:

1. Align with Strategic Goals 📊

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Having a clearly defined set of strategic goals is the first step to prioritizing projects in order of importance and impact. You need to know your ultimate goals to avoid missing the boat in delivering the results that matter. For example, a project emphasizing expanding product lines can be critical for a business that wants to gain market leadership quickly. You want your project’s objective to align with this specific goal.

Make sure your project objectives are SMART, i.e., specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Use tools like the balanced scorecard to fine-tune alignment as well as performance. Next, prioritize and “balance” your project portfolio.

Assess each project’s business value, risk, and feasibility, aligning them with strategic goals, available resources, and bandwidth. Project prioritization is never a one-time affair. You’ll need to continuously monitor and evaluate changing priorities in light of important project goals. Use dashboards, metrics, and analytics to identify the project’s progress and make the necessary adjustments to excel.


2. Evaluate Benefits and Risks 👍

A critical aspect of the project prioritization process and prioritization methods is carefully evaluating the benefits and risks associated with each project.

Regarding benefits, look at tangible benefits such as cost savings, increased revenue, reduced speed to market, and intangible benefits like enhanced brand reputation, improved team morale, or appearing more competitive in the market.

If one of your strategic goals is to become a customer-centric company, your project focused on improving customer support can lead to tangible benefits like increasing revenue over time. Intangible benefits can include increased customer loyalty.

Here's the essence of risk management: Risk no more than you can afford to lose, and also risk enough so that a win is meaningful. If there is no such amount, don't play. – Ed Seykota, American commodities trader. Click To Tweet

Also, look at timelines for benefits. You can categorize benefits as quick wins or wins that take much longer to deliver results. The results delivered over time may result in more sustainable wins. Also, evaluate the risks alongside the benefits so you have a holistic picture of which projects to prioritize first.

Risks can be internal as well as external. Internal risks could be related to resource limitations, skill gaps, and the need for more training. Examples of external factors include market fluctuations and potential changes in legislation and regulations. In the tech industry, anticipate rapid technological innovation and data security and privacy when evaluating risk.

🔥 Pro-Tip from The Assist: While evaluating projects for prioritization, factor in elements like scalability and how well you can future-proof the process and results.


3. Assess Resource Availability ✅

Conduct a thorough inventory of your resources. Identify the resources required for your project in the form of team members, tools, processes, budget, time, and technology. For instance, in a software development project, having subject matter experts like agile coders, suitable testing tools, and up-to-date tech resources is critical for project success.

Time management is also another vital resource to evaluate. Aligning your team’s availability with project timelines is essential to ensure timely execution.

Assess project dependencies, understanding the interconnectedness of tasks within the workflow. We’ll be covering more project dependencies next.

Watch out for clashes and constraints on resource availability. If specific teams are already stretched thin, introducing additional important tasks may present time management challenges and impact overall project success.

Maintain a dynamic approach to resource assessment. Just as circumstances can change while prioritizing projects, regularly check in and adapt to evolving resource availability. Using project management software can help with resource allocation.


4. Consider Dependencies 📌

Project dependencies occur when a task in one project depends on completing a different task in another project. Proactively managing these project dependencies is crucial to prioritizing projects effectively.

List all the tasks and subtasks involved in each project in your portfolio. Identify the roles and responsibilities tied to each project. Identify overlapping stakeholders.

Next, delve into the “blockers.” These are the interdependent hurdles that could potentially trip up your high-priority project when the subtasks are dependent on a low-priority project’s completion. The clarity that comes from doing this exercise can help you prioritize the tasks themselves so they’re not affecting the progress of your high-priority project.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin Click To Tweet

For instance, if you’re aiming to enhance the onboarding experience for your new recruits, creating learning and development resources might be an independent project. However, the independent project may block the smooth execution of the onboarding improvement if the resources need to be developed first. In this case, complete the relevant task first before proceeding with your key project.

🔥 Pro-Tip from The Assist: Working out inter-dependencies is important to ensuring that when you ultimately prioritize your key project, it doesn’t derail because you’re waiting on a subtask completion in another project.


5. Customer and Stakeholder Impact 🤝

Customer and stakeholder impact are two non-negotiable aspects to consider when prioritizing projects.

Evaluate how each project will directly affect your customers. Will it enhance their experience, meet their needs, or exceed expectations? For example, launching a user-friendly interface may directly impact customer satisfaction if you’re in the software business.

At the same time, consider how each project aligns with stakeholder goals, expectations, and the overall vision.


6. Regular Review and Adjustment 👓

Regularly reviewing the status of projects provides a real-time snapshot of their progress. Through regular reviews, you gain insight into potential roadblocks and challenges. For example, are there sudden, unforeseen resource constraints? Are certain tasks consistently taking longer than anticipated?

By identifying these challenges early on, you can proactively address them, preventing minor hiccups from snowballing into major setbacks.

Just because you make a good plan, doesn’t mean that’s what’s gonna happen.” ― Taylor Swift, singer and songwriter. Click To Tweet

Project priorities are also seldom static; they evolve with changes in organizational goals, market conditions, or even unexpected external factors. Regular reviews allow you to reassess the alignment of projects with these shifting dynamics. What might have been a high-priority project last quarter may need adjustment based on the current business landscape.

It’s about staying agile, ensuring your project portfolio is finely tuned to the organization’s strategic objectives.

🔥 Pro-Tip from The Assist: The mere mention of a “review” can be enough to send team members into apoplectic fits. Consider ongoing feedback instead, and open, honest conversations. So, the “review” doesn’t turn into an unpleasant surprise.


People Also Ask These Questions About How to Prioritize Projects  

Q: How do I handle competing priorities?

  • A: Develop a strategic and organized approach to ensure that resources are optimally utilized while meeting business objectives. Conduct an in-depth assessment of competing projects and evaluate the urgency, importance, and potential impact on business in light of the goals for each project and future projects. Engage with stakeholders and team members to understand expectations and identify dependencies. Develop a prioritization framework or scoring model to evaluate project priorities against organizational goals. Scroll up in this article for ideas on how to do this. Finally, look at alignment, resource availability, and dependencies to rank the highest-priority projects. Last, leave room for flexibility to pivot based on changing circumstances.

Q: What tools or software can help with project prioritization?

Q: How can I effectively communicate project priorities to my team?

  • A: Firstly, establish, share, and discuss clear criteria for prioritizing projects, such as strategic importance, the urgency of deadlines, the deliverables involved, and resource availability, to foster transparency and collective ownership. Use a visual prioritization matrix for easy reference. Regularly communicate updates on project timelines, resource allocations, and any shifts in organizational goals that may impact project prioritization. Use visual project management tools. Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and expectations for each team member so there are no ambiguities. Also, remember to review team performance regularly to ensure the projects that are top priorities are well on track.  Lastly, encourage open communication to address concerns as and when they arise.

Q: What should I do if unexpected changes impact project priorities?

  • A: Start by assessing how the nature and magnitude of the unexpected changes affect your project’s timelines, resources, priorities, and goals. The process of assessment helps support informed decision-making. Proactively communicate the changes and the reason for the changes to stakeholders and team members. Evaluate and adjust priorities after consulting with the relevant stakeholders. Discuss resource allocation and risk mitigation. Revise the project plan and update the team with the new project goals and timelines. Keep the lines of communication open to maintain full transparency throughout. Document all changes. Remember to allow room for flexibility in case of further unforeseen changes. Use the lessons learned to help you more effectively manage changes to project priorities in the future.

Q: Are there industry-specific considerations for project prioritization?

  • A: Industry-specific nuances do apply when it comes to project prioritization. Individual cases can vary. For example, suppose you operate in the IT or technology sector. In that case, you may need to realign the project scope in keeping with technological changes, which are fairly rapid compared to other industries. Data security and compliance are key factors that can impact how you prioritize projects.

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