5 Tips for Setting Project Priorities

Project ManagementHow many times have you had this conversation with your boss: “There are so many projects going on right now, which ones are the most important?” They reply: “They are all equally as important, they are all high priority and they all need to be done yesterday!” What do you do when you get this type of answer? Simply use the following questions to help you set your own project priorities:

Question 1 – Does the Project Bring in Revenue?

Companies are in business to make money. 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 to the company 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 receive the next payment of 25%. Finish this project first before you move on to a new project that may not be as close to bringing cash into 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. Payment can start being withheld, 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 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 company in a different direction, or supporting some other strategic initiative the company has defined. These types of projects are typically less crisis-oriented and longer term in nature. These can fit in nicely around paying client projects while these new projects gradually shift the direction of the company.

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 get done. They may not necessarily further the company’s big picture, but they will 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 company. The company may be on the verge of going out of business because of offering antiquated or out-of-date products or services. Nothing else matters beyond changing the strategic direction of the company 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 hear 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!