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How To Prioritize Your Projects

Published on Monday, November 6, 2017

How To Prioritize Your Projects

Whether you are working on big or small projects, or simply trying to organize your personal priorities on your To Do list, a mindmap is a great way to structure your thoughts.

In this article we look at a simple framework for prioritizing your projects across an entire business portfolio.


Portfolio Prioritization


A portfolio is the sum of all projects happening within the business. Having a portfolio view of all the work that is going on lets you see where 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 to 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. You need to know what is in your portfolio with the objective of then making decisions about what is a priority. This is the same regardless of whether your portfolio is three projects (or 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 with fact and taking the emotion out of prioritization decisions.

You can also use mindmaps to prioritize processes. Find out how one customer did that here.


Prioritization Criteria


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/Tasks

These 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 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/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 aren’t 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 didn’t stay with the times and 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 keep your business moving forward and staying up to date with market trends.

Current Projects

These are the projects that the business is working on. They should each have a project management plan. You should include them in the prioritization exercise because it is always worth revisiting existing work. It might not be appropriate to keep going with these projects, given a shift in the market or simply a change of focus from the management teams.

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/Tasks

These 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 mindmapping 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, improve 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.


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