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Project Management

How to Prioritize Projects in 5 Easy Steps

Laura LaPrad
May 29, 2018
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No matter who you work for or how big your project, knowing what to tackle first when you’ve got lots of balls in the air is tough for any project manager.

Project prioritization gives you and your team an easy-to-follow plan for the work that needs to be done, while also setting clear expectations for your client or organization. In other words, it sets everyone up for success!

Here’s how to prioritize projects in 5 easy steps:

  1. Start prioritizing projects based on business value
  2. Set priorities by identifying urgent and important projects
  3. Assess your own bandwidth
  4. Learn to say no to projects
  5. Be flexible with the project prioritization process

1. Start prioritizing projects based on business value

Begin by looking at each project on your list with one simple question in mind: How will this project impact business? While you certainly want to take the organization’s bottom line into account, you also need to consider how a project will affect people. For example, will it make life easier for our customers or team members?

Keep in mind this step might require conversations with your managers, clients, or other key stakeholders. Don’t be afraid to ask detailed questions to ensure projects that bring the biggest bang rise to the top.

2. Set priorities by identifying urgent and important projects

Now it’s time to take the prioritization process one step further. With your list of important projects in hand, go back over it with an eye for urgency. It’s easy to confuse importance with urgency, so let’s draw a clear distinction:

  • An important project brings value to your business, whether you feel its impact today or years down the road.
  • An urgent project requires immediate attention to stay on track or keep business going.

This time management matrix Stephen Covey developed makes it easy to prioritize work into 4 simple buckets.

Urgent vs. Important Priority Matrix

Here’s how to handle each priority bucket:

  • Priority 1—Urgent and important: Will a project keep business from screeching to a halt? Is there a hard deadline you can’t afford to miss? Do these projects first.
  • Priority 2—Not urgent but important: Schedule time to continue progress on projects that don’t have an immediate deadline but matter to the business just the same.
  • Priority 3—Urgent but not important: These projects may call for quick attention but don’t serve overall business goals. If work like this can’t wait, try delegating it.
  • Priority 4—Not urgent and not important: Don’t be afraid to give these projects the boot so you can free up time and resources for more worthy work.

3. Assess your own bandwidth

So what do you do if you end up with 3 urgent and important projects? If a hard deadline doesn’t declare the winner, then weigh the effort each top-priority project will take.

At TeamGantt, we like tackling bigger projects first. That way, everything feels like a quick win after that. But if clearing simple projects out of the way makes it easier for you to focus on a more complex one, go for it.

Just be aware that stacking heavyweight projects up back-to-back can be a quick drain on project energy. Try alternating big projects with small ones when possible to keep your team fresh and motivated.

4. Learn to say no to projects

Let’s set the record straight: No is not a bad word. In fact, those two little letters can make or break your ability to succeed as a project manager.

As odd as it may sound, saying yes to every single project request is a recipe for risk. Taking on more than you can handle not only runs your team into the ground—it can also leave your client fuming over missed deadlines and subpar results.

While saying no might require you to have a tough conversation, it protects your ability to deliver on the projects that matter most. And rest assured: You can turn a client or stakeholder down without closing the door completely. It might simply mean delegating tasks to another team that has the resources to get the work done on time.

5. Be flexible with the project prioritization process

If you’ve spent any time in project management, you know this: Things change. A project that was once urgent and important might be trumped by an emergency that pops up. A stakeholder may decide a project doesn’t bring business value anymore. A key player could get sick unexpectedly, putting a dent in your team’s bandwidth.

As project manager, you can either bend or you can break. It’s your job to stay alert and constantly reassess project priorities so you can adjust your team’s focus as needed. Learn why having a plan can help you with that.

Prioritize work quickly and easily with TeamGantt

The hardest part of the prioritization process is figuring out what’s worth your team’s time and committing to only the most valuable, urgent, and important projects. Once you’ve decided where to focus your energy, you’re ready to put together a plan and start knocking out work.

And that’s where TeamGantt can help lighten your load. With TeamGantt, you can stay nimble as priorities shift—and keep your team and stakeholders informed—so nothing falls through the cracks and everyone’s happy with the outcome.

Want to take TeamGantt for a spin? Sign up today, and try your first project free!

Prioritize better with TeamGantt

TeamGantt allows you to get better visibility into the state of your work and your teams workload to help you prioritize better.

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