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Prioritizing Projects

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Ginny Edwards • updated: 10/14/2010

Prioritizing projects is an important aspect of project management. Many projects fall short due to an inability to properly prioritize the projects in your company. Learn how to distinguish between project priority levels and ensure that all team members in your company work on the right things.

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    Too Many Balls in the Air at Once

    Are You Drowning Under Stacks Like These? Sometimes, as a project manager (or a freelancer, or academic) you suddenly realize that none of your projects are making the progress they should be making. Worse, clients and stakeholders are calling you and emailing you non-stop looking for status updates. If this is happening to you, perhaps you need to look at the way you have been prioritizing projects and the tasks associated with those projects. Each project on your list should be ordered in terms of how important it is and how urgent it is that it is completed. Only by taking the time to figure out your project prioritization, can you achieve any real success in managing multiple projects.

    Image Credit: sxc.hu/MrTim20

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    Important vs. Urgent

    You may already have heard about the important vs. urgent priority matrix. Understanding the differences between something that is important and something that is urgent is essential when you are working to prioritize your projects. Any given project has four possible ratings as they relate to your company:

    • Not Important and Not Urgent - Why is it that these projects are on your list? If a project is not important and not urgent, you will probably want to look into scrapping it in favor of a project that is important and urgent. If, on the other hand you do decide to keep that project on your list, you will want to give it the lowest priority.
    • Not Important, but Urgent - These are the projects that make you feel like you're constantly putting out fires. If you can't delegate the project to someone else or eliminate the project all together, give it a higher priority than those tasks that are not important and not urgent, but not as high a priority as your important, but not urgent tasks. Why? If you are constantly putting out fires, you will never get to the more important tasks that your company needs in order to be successful.
    • Important, but not Urgent - Important but not urgent projects often receive a low priority, but really should be a higher priority. Accounting might not be urgent until tax time, but it certainly is important. By giving important but not urgent tasks a higher priority than you normally would think to, you can stave off a major source of stress.
    • Important and Urgent - These projects should receive the highest priority. Often, these projects occur when you've put off those important, but not urgent projects until they turn from embers into full-blown forest fires.

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    Analyzing Your Projects in Terms of Important vs. Urgent

    Now that you understand the differences between tasks that are important and those that are merely important, look at your project list again. Go through each project and ask yourself the following questions:

    • Is this project important, urgent, both, or neither?
    • Who are the stakeholders involved in this project?
    • Can this project be delegated or put on hold?
    • What would happen if we eliminated this project?
    • Does this project contribute to the bottom line of the company?
    • When does this project need to be completed by?

    You can see that by asking these questions, and questions like these, projects where the priority status is unclear can be made unambiguous.

    Once you have analyzed your projects, order them in terms of project priority - urgent and important projects, important projects, urgent projects, and then, should you keep any, neither important nor urgent tasks.

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    Scheduling Your Projects and Project Tasks

    Once you have ordered your projects in terms of their priority, it should be easy to schedule your tasks. First, schedule the important and urgent projects. Next, schedule any urgent projects. Finally, be sure that those important, but not urgent projects receive attention every day. By scheduling in this manner, you can be sure that all bases have been covered from prioritizing projects.