Ranking Project Priorities is the First Step

Get project management programs off the ground by doing first things first, writes PM Planet columnist Cynthia West of Project Insight.
Posted December 13, 2007

Cynthia West

Most CIOs would concur that there is more project demand for their resources than they have resources and/or time to manage them. Most IT departments have to continually juggle and re-assess projects and their priorities. This means that an IT resource manager must constantly assign and re-assign resources.

Ranking project priority is a difficult chore for many organizations because it requires enough maturity among the business departments and divisions to slow down enough to conduct pre-project launch discussions. Unfortunately, in many IT environments, project prioritization comes down to the loudest department head, or the most influential, based on less than logical decision making.

The first step in the process is to hold a meeting or series of meetings with key decision makers or department heads to determine how projects will be prioritized and weighed. Your organization will need to develop criteria for the following:

  • Categories for the projects or project types;
  • Metrics for scoring the projects; and
  • A scoring system.
  • In order to create project types, you will need to look at common categories of projects that you conduct. For example, an IT organization might have project types by business unit it serves, or by product/software that it supports, or by IT function such as networking, maintenance, upgrades, etc., or by initiative. Typically, the teams will meet to determine the project types they will track as well as the nomenclature to use.

    A metric system for scoring the projects might include categorizing projects by the following: strategic initiative, mission critical, process improvement, projected revenue growth, projected profitability, or compliance.

    A scoring system needs to be created that allows the team to weigh the projects and then provide a final score. The scoring system needs to have a description so that new team members can understand the system. Typical scoring systems are from 1-to-10 or from 1-to-5. When scoring, for example, a compliance project would receive the highest score possible as it is not usually an optional project.

    Once the criteria for scoring projects have been decided upon, a useful tool is a score card. This can be a simple Excel spreadsheet or a more sophisticated portfolio and project management software system. Excel will work if the project load is minimal, but in environments where there are a dozen or more simultaneous projects, a centralized project and resource management system of some sort becomes indispensable.

    As the lowest common denominator is the spreadsheet, let us use this for our purposes. You may list the projects in the rows of the spreadsheet and list the questions in the columns. Then you may score each project on a scale of 1-to-5. This spreadsheet averages all scores for each question for the total score, except if the project is required for compliance, then an added weight may be added. Of course, you may assign different values to each question as well for more complex scoring.

    Once the projects have been scored, then the scheduled start dates may be assigned. What you will want to decide upon as an organization, is how often you will score and assess projects. Many IT organizations have priorities change too frequently, causing a lot of time and effort going into resource changes and the like. If you can plan ahead for at least one month, ideally one quarter in advance, then your resources will know what project or projects they will be working on and have the peace of mind to actually do the work.

    Before you schedule the projects out, it will be necessary to evaluate the resource pool and make sure that you have the skill sets required to perform the project tasks or activities. We will take a look at that topic in next month’s column.

    Cynthia West is vice president of Project Insight, a leading provider of Web-based project management software solutions to the mid-market.

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