How To Prioritise? 8 Steps To Stop Making Painful Mistakes!


Life does not give us everything we want. Resources are always limited, whereas demands are beyond the limit. How to prioritise is a must-have skill for everyone!

I still remember my school days, having five bucks in hand and queuing up in front of the canteen window. While talking, laughing with friends, one question that I often think was:

What is the best combination of goodies that I can buy today?

How to Prioritise

Well, things are not much different now; in my personal life, I still have the same question. What is the best combination of goodies that I can buy for my house and family?
In my professional life, I focus on tasks that deliver the best value to my customers.
In the end, it goes back to the art of prioritisation. I thought it is a good idea to design a framework that can help prioritise almost anything.

8 Step process to learn how to prioritise anything!

Here you go:

1. Know your vision/mission

Understanding of big picture is critical. Before prioritising, note down your vision/mission.

For example, if you are prioritising among several Enterprise projects. You cannot execute all at once. First, note that what is your business vision/mission. It will help you to access which projects are aligned to the big picture. The projects that are in line with the big picture should be at the top of the list.

2. Write down your goal

If you have a specific objective, then write it down. For example, your goal can be to improving the customer experience by 20%. Note that the goal must be aligned to the big picture.

Let us continue with our example. Again, out of the projects list, select projects that improve the customer experience.

3. Find constraints

We are always experiencing constraints of limited time, budget, regulatory conditions. Find the list of conditions under which you are prioritising.

For example, the given budget for the projects in the fiscal year is $2M. So, the project’s execution must be complete and approved within this fiscal year.

4. Group the options into a logical sequence

If you have an extensive list of options to prioritise then group similar options. It will help you to develop a more concise and manageable list.

For example, groups the similar projects by adding tags such as – Customer experience, Operations improvement, Human resources and Regulatory.

5. Find dependencies for each option

The list of options you are considering prioritising may be interdependent on each other or dependent on external factors. These factors can be – specialist resource, executive approval, audit, timebound events

For example, the group of Regulatory projects may be dependent on internal audits. There can be interdependencies between Customer experience and Operations improvement projects due to resources, technical or other reasons. So, list all dependencies and interdependencies for the projects you are prioritising.

6. Estimate on the prioritised list

Prepare an estimate for each option. Write down how much each option costs you. Note that in the above step, we already noted our resource dependencies. This step helps to understand the estimated expenditure on each option.

For example, the Estimated budget for projects 1, 2 and 3 is $200K, $220K and $500K, respectively.

7. Measure impact and benefits of each option

Measure the monitory, reputation, risk management benefits for each option. Find what are your returns on investment? This step is all about finding out what you will get in return for your investment (Returns On Investment – ROI)

For example, the ROI on projects 1, 2 and 3 is $150K, 80K and $800K, respectively. But, note that the impact and benefits should not be limited to monetary value. It would help if you looked at a more holistic picture. So, evaluate how each option offer benefits from reputation, risk management, moral, vision and community development perspectives.

8. Determine your approach

You have prerequisite information to make a call on priority. You can now make informed prioritisation decisions. Think outside the box, be creative, look for options and strategies to make the most impact with the known constraints. Then, make the decision considering the vision/mission and goals (point 1,2 above).

Here are few additional tips:

  • Determine ‘AND’ options rather than ‘OR’ – Often, we decide one option over the other. It does not always need to be like that. Analyse if there are any ‘AND’ options available. For example, instead of choosing Project 1 over Project 2, check if we can run both projects in parallel.
  • Focus on low hanging fruit: These are the options that are easy wins. That should be higher on your priority list
  • Iterate options to prepare a prioritised list – Now you have a more complete information to prioritise the final list. Based on the points covered above, adjust the options, and prepare a final priority list that satisfies your goal, dependencies, constraints, and approach.

Finally, like many other management challenges, there is no silver bullet to how to prioritise. Different techniques work in a separate set of situations. The key is to assess and refine your tool-set.

Now, over to you!

You have a decision to make!

You can choose to make random decisions based on emotions of fear/passion, or, follow a framework that will assist you in making sensible priority decisions every single time.

This framework has served me well. I would encourage you to use the framework for your upcoming prioritisation challenges.

Feel free to reach out if you need assistance.

Good luck!