Let’s start with a rule of thumb: If you’ve got everything under control, then alarms should be going off everywhere. It’s a red flag. 

The fact is, if things are going well, you will automatically have a lot of urgent things seeking attention and resources. And to get things going well, you have to make a decision to prioritize your projects, set a cut-off line, kill the projects that fall underneath it and focus on allocating resources to the remaining.

At operational and strategic levels, prioritization is often the difference between success and failure.

The benefits of getting it right are quite rewarding. By getting your prioritization process repeatedly right, you gain and increase clarity and alignment of your teams around strategic goals, remove doubts and prevent decision paralysis and dilemmas for the operations team when faced with new scenarios. It will also increase the success rate of your strategic projects, and above all, build a culture of executors and “trigger pullers.”

The problem is prioritizing and ranking projects is not easy. It’s one of the biggest challenges you will face as a leader. However, complementing your team’s expertise with additional leadership training in this area will significantly streamline the process. Hence, in this post we will discuss two of the most useful methods of getting prioritization and ranking to get you started.

1. Ranking

All of us understand how ranking works and what it delivers.

The top three winners of any competition are considered the three best participants/teams. The Fortune 500 companies rank the highest revenues for the year in descending order. The Inc. 5000 shows the fastest privately held growing companies in the U.S.. For each, the final results are based on certain set criteria.

The same holds true for your projects.

Project priority is at the top, and the least important projects are at the bottom.

As a rule of thumb across all leadership training for this and other methods, use a focused criteria, such as one or two rules. If you’re wondering if it limits the scope of the method, you’re right. Not all projects are comparable. We’ll discuss that in the next method.

The criteria have to be based on your strategic goals and values. Unless your team has clarity about the organizational goals and values, you won’t drive meaningful progress. However, your assessment can start with a basic question for each project: “Should this project be initiated at all?”

For comparable projects, here are some possible factors you can use to organize and rank them.

  • Expected ROI
  • Customer benefit/satisfaction vs. investment
  • Strategic contribution

The main advantage of this method is that at the end of the activity, there can’t be multiple highest-priority projects. You will have to decide the highest-priority project, which is second and so on.

Once done, you can allocate resources from the top towards the bottom. And when capacity, budget and resources are used up (e.g. by 11th project), then that’s the cut off line. All the projects below that are scrapped off.

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2. Scoring method

As a leader, in this method you ask: “What will bring in the most benefit?”

This method overcomes the limitations of the ranking method, where evaluating projects that are not comparable is difficult. This allows you to work with more complex evaluation, ranging from strategic and economic importance to urgency and budget risks.

Here are four criteria and the questions you can ask for evaluating and scoring projects:

Scoring for Strategic Contribution

  • How fundamental is the completion of the project to the corporate strategy and vision of the company?
  • Will it deliver a competitor advantage? How much? How does it fare to comparable competitor projects?
  • Will it reduce costs or increase revenues?
  • How does it affect customers? Will it increase customer satisfaction?
  • How does it affect us internally? Will it affect employee retention and satisfaction?

Scoring for Economic Impact

  • What is the expected total cost of the project (entire lifecycle)?
  • What is the payback period?
  • What is the expected impact on the bottom-line?

Scoring for Riskiness

  • Will continuity of the business be affected if the project is not completed?
  • Will delay in implementation damage or affect the company’s reputation?
  • Will delay incur additional costs?

Scoring on Urgency

  • Does this project help us meet a legal compliance requirement?
  • Are other projects dependent on the success or implementation of this project?
  • Have we promised a deadline?

Scoring your projects on all the factors is not necessary, or applicable at one time. The criteria listed are simply to give you an overview of how to evaluate the projects you have in the pipeline.

The rule of thumb when using a scoring criteria is that it should be self-explanatory and address the major concerns of the stakeholders to make it acceptable in your company. 

Once you have established the criteria, you have to assign a scale for scoring the project. You can use a 0 to 10 or a 0 to 100 scale for each criteria, with four to five scoring points (e.g. 0 2 4, or 0 25, 50, etc.). Furthermore, you can add additional weight to different areas depending on their importance. For instance, the strategic contributions can have more weight depending on your company goals.

At the end of the scoring, the project with the highest score is ranked at the top.

If this seems exhaustive, here’s a little warning: it is. Getting caught up in the nitty gritty can lead you to create a long catalog of criteria and complex weightage formulas. Remember that each factor you add only adds more work for the PMO as well as more time needed to assess priorities. It could also blur the results, as not all information you have will be objective.

The solution is to start with two and add more when necessary. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. To gain a process that is repeatable for your organization, you will have to experiment a few times.

In Conclusion

Getting prioritization and ranking of your projects right is crucial for the success of your organization. I hope you found this blog helpful. If you are looking to dive in further and master how to develop a repeatable process for efficiently ranking project priority, then you can check our leadership training courses in this category.

Our experts can help you decide which courses are best suitable for your current career, job role and responsibilities. Get in touch.