October 15, 2019

What Are the Best Techniques to Prioritize Tasks in Your Projects?

By Brian McHale

The shortest path to success is through prioritization.

Even if you’re not a trained project manager, you and your company can still experience immense benefits if you know how to prioritize projects in a portfolio.

In this article, we’re going to show you how to create a project prioritization system that ensures you successfully complete a variety of projects.

Let’s take a look!


What Is Project Prioritization?

Project prioritization can help you identify the most important problems and tasks to work on across projects, keeping all the constraints in mind.

When you have to manage multiple projects at once, it’s usually impossible to dedicate the same amount of time and resources to every single project.

Typically, there are time, as well as resource, constraints you have to think of.

Now, you may feel overwhelmed when you see all of these things you have to do.

However, your mission is to make a project prioritization plan.

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Why You Need to Prioritize Projects

To put it simply: you have to prioritize projects because you don’t have an infinite amount of resources.

When it comes to prioritizing projects in a portfolio, you have to make sure that you’re strategizing both task and project management.

This way, you’ll be securing stakeholder approval and making sure that the projects are completed successfully.

Additionally, when you set project priorities, you’ll be making the work easier on your project team(s).

Everyone will know exactly what they need to work on at any given time.

Your performance won’t suffer even if you feel like you’re stretched thin. You’ll be productive and efficient.

After all, the numbers don’t lie: organizations that invest in strategic prioritization deliver 40% more value.

Project teams that successfully establish project priorities are:

  • More likely to achieve project goals
  • Faster to deliver
  • Less likely to go over budget or scope
  • More productive, efficient, engaged, and happier.


Having understood which projects in your portfolio need the most attention, and which tasks should be prioritized, you can make sure you have a higher project success rate.

Finally, when you’ve prioritized projects, you can improve your return on investment (ROI).

You’ll be dedicating time to projects and tasks that matter, instead of finding your hands full of unimportant projects and tasks.

And when top management, clients, and your project teams all see that you’re strategically approaching projects, it will be much easier to get sponsorships from the stakeholders that can make or break the project.


How to Prioritize Projects (in a Portfolio)

The best way to prioritize projects is with a little help from the project management prioritization matrix.

A prioritization matrix is one of the easiest ways to identify the most important tasks and projects.

It’s usually used during the planning and brainstorming phase in which project teams (and in some cases other stakeholders as well) identify project priorities.

Again, this can pertain to tasks within a project or multiple projects in a portfolio.

The end goal is to have a list of important items to address.

These items should be the most important ones; ones without whose resolution it’s impossible to get a return on investment.

There are two types of prioritization matrices:

  • Simple matrix (each factor is equally important)
  • Weighted matrix (some factors are more important than others).

Action Priority Matrix

Image source: Expert Program Management.

For example, if your project was getting to the North Pole, your priority would be organizing transport.

You can create your matrix with the tools you already use. Even Office 365 has project management features.

In order to identify project priorities, you should establish specific criteria against which you will measure tasks to evaluate their importance.

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Defining Project Priority Criteria for Simple Project Prioritization Matrices

Typically, project teams prioritize different items and projects according to their impact and the effort necessary to complete them:

  • If the item has a high impact and requires low effort, keep it
  • If the item has a high impact and requires high effort, keep it
  • Ditch the items that have low impact and high effort
  • Ditch the items that have low impact and low effort.


You can also make business strategy alignment one of your main criteria when prioritizing projects.

Remove projects that aren’t in direct alignment with business goals, and keep the projects that are.

Priority Matrix Sample

Source: PPM Execution.

Another method of establishing project priorities is risk evaluation.

If some projects have a high risk rate and many potential setbacks, it’s time to figure out if the benefits exceed the downfalls.

According to Ernie Bray, if all projects in a portfolio are equally important, then you should prioritize the most time-sensitive and highest-impact projects.

When it comes to internal projects, customers should be at the forefront of your mind whenever you establish project priorities.

If your customers are going to immediately benefit from one project first, make it your priority. Tackle everything else later on.

Finally, in order to scale and ensure the steady growth of your company, you have to make the projects that achieve long-term goals a priority.

Yes, short-term success projects are necessary.

However, don’t lose track of your future as you focus on the present.


Defining Project Priority Criteria for Weighted Project Prioritization Matrices

If you’re juggling a lot of important projects at the same time, it’s time for some good old math.


You can get started by defining criteria and then assigning each a numerical value (requirement score).

In this example, the company’s criteria are strategic alignment, market attractiveness, and technical feasibility.

Each criterion is then scored, and when the totals are summed up, the items that have the highest scores are the ones to focus on first.

Other ranking factors you can use to create your weighted project prioritization matrix are:

  • Competitive advantage (Will the completion of this project provide the company with future competitive advantages and the achievement of long-term goals?)
  • Costs (How much does the project cost, and is it warranted by the expected ROI? What is the cost of not completing this project?)
  • Strategic alignment (Does the completion of the project contribute to strategical business goals?)
  • ROI and payback periods (How much revenue is the project expected to generate, and in which period?)
  • Customer benefits (Will the customers benefit from this project immediately?)
  • Dependencies (Do other projects depend on the completion of this project?)
  • Deadlines
  • Urgency.



Then, you can score the items by assigning each criterion a numerical value to describe its payback period:

  • 0: The project is not worth pursuing
  • 25-50: The project will take a long time to generate ROI
  • 75-100: The project will generate ROI in the desired period.


When you’re done, you’ll have a way of understanding the most profitable and cost-effective projects you should be focusing on.


Checklist: Creating a Project Prioritization Matrix

If you want to take the mathematical approach, you can create your matrix if you:

  • Define your project importance criteria
  • Assign each criterion a numerical value
  • Add up the scores
  • Prioritize the projects with the highest scores.


Alternatively, you can also simply brainstorm the priorities with your project team and other stakeholders:

  • List all of your projects, constraints, impacts and costs. Pay attention to task and project dependencies
  • Determine the most important criteria for deciding which items should be kept and eliminated (e.g. customer benefits, impact/cost analysis, etc.)
  • Determine the priorities according to the set criteria.


And there you have it! A little teamwork, a few analyses, and you’ll be good to go!

It’s time to focus on the most important projects!

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