Adapted from an article by Jason at created back in November 2013,
updated and published here February 2022.


Musings Index

Five Tips for Setting Project Priorities

In some organizations, especially involving technology, there are more project requests than can be handled by the available qualified staff. What may be worse is that these requests come from different departments. So it is not unreasonable to ask which projects should have priority? Unfortunately, because they are from different departments, no one is willing to concede priorities.

So it falls to you to make that decision. Some requests may be fairly easily and quickly to deal with and it is easier to get those "out of the way". However, that approach does not necessarily serve the best interests of the organization. So, what to do? Well, you just have to make your own determination, and notify everyone accordingly.

Quite often you will immediately receive feedback from which you can settle on the real priorities. Failing that, you will just have to make your own selection of priorities. Here's how, by posing the following questions:

Question #1 — Does the project bring in revenue or other particular benefits?

Companies are in business to make money or to satisfy political imperatives. That's why everyone goes to great lengths to get as much done as possible with limited resources and short time frames. You can never go wrong with this question if you are struggling with setting project priorities. Choose the project to work on that will bring in revenue or other benefits to the orgaizaton if you have a choice to make. For example, there may be one phase of the project that needs to be complete in order to provide the foundation for the next steps. If so, do this first before you move on to a new project that may not be as close to bringing benefit to the company.

Question #2 — Will closing this project create client noise?

Unfortunately, sometimes projects don't go as planned. This is bad enough when the project is an internal project, but it can really cause friction when the project is for a client. Dates may begin to slip or functionality may not work as intended. Clients can become frustrated and may begin getting a bit vocal. This gradual crescendo of discontent can quickly escalate to a full-blown roar if not carefully managed. Perhaps payment may start being withheld, or VPs start getting involved, and meetings designed to reset expectations are necessary in order to get things back on track. These are the next types of projects you would move up in the queue to work on as you prioritize your projects.

Question #3 — Will closing this project create internal noise?

This question is a variation of quieting client noise. Internal noise can be almost as bad as client noise and many times a bit more intense. It sounds like this… "I would be able to finish my deliverable, but I'm waiting on the specification that is running 8 weeks behind!" That particular deliverable is a project that you have been assigned to manage. This deliverable may not be complete for legitimate reasons (for example, limited resources, shifting priorities, changing scope) but it is being used as the poster child for why someone else internally is running behind. These are the next projects you want to tackle and bring to closure.

Question #4 — Is it a strategic project?

Now that you have projects that are bringing in revenue, or perhaps political benefits, and the noise is down to a dull roar, you can focus on those projects that are strategic in nature. These are projects that will be introducing a new product, taking the organization in a different direction, or supporting some other strategic initiative the organization has identified. These types of projects are typically less crisis-oriented and longer term in nature. These can fit in nicely around other beneficial client projects, while these new projects gradually shift the direction of the organization.

Question #5 — What's left?

You are now down to the final question. What projects are left? These projects are typically pet projects from VPs and Executives that they would like to see get done. They may not necessarily further the organization's big picture, but they could make their department's job easier. Or, these may be projects that fall into the "nice-to-have" category but would not be considered mission critical.


There is one exception to the order of the questions above. Question #4 can quickly move to the top of the list depending upon the current state of the organization. Or a department may be on the verge of being discontinued because of offering antiquated or out-of-date products or services. Nothing else matters beyond changing the strategic direction of the organization if this is the case. Question #4 will rocket to the top of this list and everything else will become a lower priority.

So the next time you get they answer: "they're all important", use the questions above to help you manage setting project priorities. You will quickly find that this process will become second nature and you will automatically be picking the next best project to work on!

Prioritize your projects by using You can include project priorities that range from "Critical" to "Not Important" and sort your projects accordingly.

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