What are you working on today? I hope it is the stuff that is the highest priority for your company. If not, why not? It can be difficult to set project priorities, especially when you have lots of different projects across the organization delivering different things. Comparing them can be tricky. Equally, if you are working on several different projects and have some degree of flexibility with where you spend your time, have you thought about how you prioritize which one to do first?
It is normally the Project Management Office’s job to prioritize projects for the company overall. They will look at all the projects that are happening and make sure that the priority projects get the pick of resources. They might use modeling software to establish which projects have the highest return, or other types of online project management software to plan out the priority work for the year. While return on investment and financial measures are a big part of how projects are prioritized, there are a number of other ways to do it. Here are some of the ways projects may be prioritized in your business. You can also use these to consider how to prioritize your own projects and workload.
#1 “Low Hanging Fruit”
Don’t you just love management buzzwords? “Low hanging fruit” means the type of project that is quick to do and gives you a fast return. In other words, the easy stuff. The difficulty is that most companies have already done all the easy, high-value, speedy projects. In a challenging economic climate, these were the sort of projects that got prioritized and pushed to the top of the list. Still, you may find a few more opportunities in your company.
Another way to look at low hanging fruit is to consider whether there are any quick wins on one particular project. If you changed the order of tasks, could you deliver a phase earlier? Could you prioritize one part of the project that would deliver better benefits over another that would take longer to see any return? Think about how you can prioritize the activities on your project, as well as across all the projects you are working on.
Ah, money. Most project sponsors want to see that their project turns a profit – in other words, that it brings in some cash for the company. This type of project could be something like opening a new branch or launching a new product.
The faster you can complete the project and launch whatever it is, the faster that thing starts making money for the company as people start buying or using it. If the project is delayed by 6 months, that can have a significant impact on the financial projections for the year. Ideally, if you can complete the project earlier, that means even more income for the organization. Let’s hope that translates into a bonus for you!
#3 Customer or Staff Satisfaction
Sometimes money isn’t the issue. If customers are very unhappy, losing them could be a huge disaster for the company. The faster you can implement a project to improve customer satisfaction, the sooner the fortunes of the business will turn around. Happier customers make everyone’s life easier and more profitable.
This goes for staff satisfaction too. Some projects that have a focus on staff may seem like they take up a lot of effort for not much return, but it costs a lot of money to recruit someone new – more than it does to retain someone who is already working at the company. Lowering the rate of staff who leave (and minimizing the chance that they will go to work for a competitor) can be a massive benefit for a company. Happy staff members are also more productive, and you want those good, motivated people working on your project team.
#4 Fit with Strategy
You can also prioritize projects based on their strategic fit. In other words, how much this project helps the company overall deliver its strategy or meet its goals. This can be difficult to quantify, so one way to do it would be to allocate projects a score out of 10. A low score means that the project doesn’t really make much contribution to meeting the strategy. A higher score means that it is strategically aligned.
If you don’t know what your company strategy is, talk to your manager or someone in the Project Management Office. They should be able to help you work out how aligned your project is to the corporate objectives.
Finally, you can prioritize projects based on how long they will take. If a project is timetabled to only take 6 weeks, you could probably sneak that in now so that it is complete and out the way before you start on something that is likely to take a year. This is also a good way of prioritizing your own work. If something can be completed quickly, get it out the way early. However, other short tasks often pop up once you have finished one. You don’t want to spend all your time only working on short tasks and mini-projects, ignoring the larger, more strategic, more important projects. There is a risk that you will never get round to them if you do that.
You can no doubt come up with lots of other ways to prioritize projects. These are just some of the criteria that you can use, or your Project Management Office can use, to put projects in a priority order. Also think about how you can use these categories to prioritise your own work, especially if you are working on multiple projects.
Often a combination of factors will be the best way to work out an overall priority. Once you have a list of criteria to use for prioritization – whether you use this list or include others relevant to your own work and business – then you can score projects against those criteria. This makes the whole process much more scientific, and that makes it harder for project sponsors to clamour for the best resources and try to get their projects moved to the top of the list. Clear prioritization criteria mean that everyone understands how projects are judged and which ones get worked on first.