How To Prioritize Your Projects
Whether you are working on a big or small project, or simply trying to organize your personal priorities on your To Do list, a mind map is a great way to structure your thoughts.
In this article, we look at a simple framework that can help you prioritize projects across an entire business portfolio.
A portfolio is the sum of all projects happening within the business. Having a portfolio view of all the work that is going on gives you the possibility to see if there are issues with resourcing the work or delivering projects on time.
Understanding your whole portfolio can help you make better investment decisions as well. For example, it can show you where the majority of your project funding is being spent. Let’s say you are heavily investing in sales. That might be appropriate, but it might not be aligned with your strategic plan. Perhaps your business would be better off investing in IT to build out the underlying infrastructure. When you take a holistic view of the work you are doing through managing it as a portfolio, you can see this type of information more clearly.
However, you can’t do everything and you need to know what is in your portfolio with the objective of making a decision about what is a priority. This is the same regardless of whether your portfolio consists of three projects, a dozen things on your To Do list or hundreds of multi-million dollar initiatives in a huge international firm.
Knowing what is a priority and what isn’t, starts with having a process for prioritization. When you have categories related to your business that you can drop projects into, you can quickly see what should be top of the list and what shouldn’t. You can balance conflicting requirements and conflicting demands, managing difficult stakeholders through the process of fact and taking the emotion out of prioritization decisions. For prioritizing processes you can also use mind mapping.
Let’s look at some prioritization criteria that will help you organize your portfolio so that the whole team knows what is most important to work on.
Regulatory Projects and Tasks
Regulatory projects and tasks are the activities that your business needs to carry out in order to stay compliant with the law. This could be introducing process change or new policies in line with a new regulation or submitting annual returns to regulatory bodies and so on. These have to be top of the list because if your business does not complete them, you will be operating outside of the law.
‘Cost of Doing Business’ Projects and Tasks
These are the activities that you need to do as a business to stay competitive. For example, updating your computer software to the latest supported version. It’s not regulatory, but without supported software, you will be more at risk of viruses and you won't be giving your employees the tools they need to do the job. Another example would be moving to an online payment system when all your competitors are doing that. If you don't update your payment protocols to allow online payment, you would soon find your business unable to maintain its position in the market. These projects and tasks are what keeps your business moving forward and staying up to date with market trends.
Current projects are the projects that the business is working on at the moment. For each of these, there should be a project management plan. You should include them in the prioritization exercise because it is always worth revisiting existing work. Sometimes, if there is a shift in the market or simply a change of focus from the management teams, it might smart to pause some of the current projects.
It’s important to be aware of what is currently going on when you are making decisions about what new projects could come into your portfolio or your personal work plans. There is only so much that you can take on.
Discretionary Projects and Tasks
Discretionary projects and tasks are the new initiatives that you would like to get involved with. Either they are personal tasks that would be good to get started or larger projects that the business would like approval to proceed with. They are not mandatory, they are not currently being worked on, they aren’t going to help you stay competitive or contribute to the cost of doing business. They are simply good ideas.
There are likely to be a lot of things that fall into this category. On a large portfolio, you could have hundreds of projects being put forward for prioritization. That’s why it helps to break this large section into three: high, medium or low priority. You can use any category names you like, as long as they are meaningful to you. These are simply buckets that you can put work in to help you and your teams understand where you should be spending your effort, budget, and resources right now.
The Benefits of Portfolio Mapping
When you use mind mapping tools like iMindQ to map out your portfolio of work – however big or small – you can easily see what the pipeline of incoming work looks like. You can also easily see the outcomes of a number of initiatives at the same time.
It’s a very visual way of thinking about your upcoming priorities and ensuring that you have the resources and budget to deliver them. The other important thing to consider is the capability of the teams: it’s no good approving a high priority project that requires Java development skills if you don’t have any of those available right now. Something else is going to have to stop to free up the Java resources that you need for the high priority project.
You can juggle the priorities around and move projects between categories as necessary, but having the whole portfolio laid out for you is invaluable. It will improve your investment decisions and your focus and ensure everyone is on the same page with what is most important for your organization at the moment.
About the author
Elizabeth Harrin is the author and award-winning blogger behind A Girl’s Guide To Project Management. Get her suggestions for being more productive at work on her blog.