Go too many projects? Prioritize them!

Too Many Projects

Does your organization have more projects than it can handle? It’s easy for smart, creative people to generate lots of good ideas for projects. And soon, if you’re not careful, you can easily have more projects going than you have people, time, and money to complete them.  When your list of pending projects becomes overwhelming, you’ve got to figure out how to sort through them and prioritize them. But how do you separate the high priority projects from those that are less important? The answer: You need to develop some sort of objective prioritization criteria, then apply these to your list of pending projects.

Prioritize Your Projects

In my PM classes and consulting, I’ve worked with many organizations to help them develop a customized approach, based on their unique organization’s values, to compare projects and prioritize them. Then, after their projects are prioritized, the organization can fund and support the higher-priority projects, leaving the lower-priority projects to be completed later, when more resources are available.

Note: It’s particularly important that project prioritization criteria be locally-developed, since these should reflect your organization’s unique strategic directions, values, and business priorities. While I can’t help you figure out what’s important to your organization, I can share with you a generic approach that can be a springboard for developing your own, custom-tailored prioritization scheme.

A Generic Approach to Prioritizing Projects

Here’s a simple, generic, 3-step approach to prioritizing your project list:

  1. Determine your criteria and create a ranking scale for discriminating among projects. For example:
  • Strategic Value: Is it important to our organization’s overall strategies? [1 = Highly important 5 = Not important]
  • Ease: Will this project be fairly easy to complete? [1 = Very easy 5 = Very difficult]
  • Financial Benefit: Will the project’s deliverables likely yield financial benefit? [1 = Highly likely 5 = Not likely]
  • Cost: Will this project likely cost a lot? [1 = Low cost 5 = High cost]
  • Resource Impact: Will this project have a great impact on our resources (people, equipment, etc.)? [1 = Low impact 5 = High impact]

NOTE: You can, of course, add and change criteria. You can also weight certain criteria to give them more value in the overall score. Be creative! It’s your organization, your values, and your prioritization scheme!

  1. Make a grid or table with the names of your prioritization criteria across the top and the names of potential projects down the left column.
  2. Review each project and apply a value (based on the ranking scale) for each of the criteria. Then add up the total scores for each project, divide them by the number of criteria and determine their priority. This step might be completed in two stages: First, individually, by managers or supervisors from various organizations that provide resources (people, facilities, equipment, and money) to projects. Second, as a group effort with these managers and supervisors getting together to compare notes on their prioritization results to develop a master list of prioritized projects that everyone agrees on.

Below is an example of a completed project prioritization worksheet:*

A sample Project Prioritization Worksheet

Conclusion

In broad terms, this entire process of prioritizing projects is typically conducted across functional lines, often by the heads of the organization’s various departments or their designees. Taken together, these people sometimes develop a working team referred to as the “project office” who meet regularly to try to manage the overall collection of active and pending projects as a “project portfolio.”

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* Note: You can make a similar worksheet to prioritize your personal project list or your family project list. For example, one of my PM students used it to help prioritize a long list of small remodeling projects which she and her husband were contemplating. By prioritizing them, she was able to make certain that the most important projects would be completed first – before they ran out of money!

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