How To Develop a Systematic Approach to Prioritizing All Projects

Developing a systematic approach to prioritizing all projects in your organization or department makes sense but how many organizations really do it? Too often, projects will get initiated without much consideration other than, “It seems like a great idea.” So it’s not surprising that our research shows that only 12.5% of organizations look at their projects to see if they strategically align with their business. Furthermore, 68% of organizations have no process in place to help them prioritize their projects. This lack of process for project prioritization and strategic alignment are major reasons for project failure. Project prioritization includes identifying how each project within each department is aligned with corporate strategy. A successful project management system must include project prioritization and alignment of projects with strategy so that only projects that add value get implemented.

1. Develop an inventory of all projects in your organization.

One way to establish a systematic approach to prioritizing projects is to develop an inventory of all projects, regardless of size or scope, that are currently being implemented by all departments and within the whole organization. Such an inventory list will make it clear as to which projects have the endorsement of senior management. This is because, in our experience, many organizations underestimate the true number of projects that are being implemented. For example, management may believe that about 100 projects are on the go. However, through this investigation, they will likely uncover the fact that a significantly greater number of projects are actually being worked on, perhaps up to 200. So it’s no wonder that managers are baffled as to why employees feel stressed and over-worked! The organization’s resources are clearly over-allocated and this can lead to high stress levels and reduced productivity.

2. Make sure that each project has an approved scope statement and detailed project plan.

When listing the inventory of projects it is important to ensure that each project has an approved scope statement and detailed project plan because this will affect project prioritization decisions. Projects that fail to have clear scope and detailed plans are bound for failure.

3. Identify and record the overall goal, strategic alignment and key deliverables for each project.

After establishing an accurate inventory of all projects, the next step is to both identify and record the overall goal, strategic alignment and key deliverables for each project to begin the prioritization process. The best way to record this is probably on a spreadsheet so it is easy to review and compare projects.

4. Establish criteria for determining the impact you expect of each project.

Once you have recorded the overall goal, strategic alignment and key deliverables for each project, you are now ready to establish some criteria for determining the expected impact that each project will have on the organization. A management committee, composed of a sampling of managers from different departments, is probably the best task force for this process. They will provide perspectives from different vantage points to ensure that most options are considered. The committee’s first task will be to agree on and establish the “impact” criteria to be used in determining the relative importance of each project. This may include: how a given project will impact the organization, their own department, the customers, staff and the organization’s profits.

Project management is a process, best articulated by the Project Management Life Cycle. Designed to act as a simple guide, the life cycle helps those responsible for the management of projects, regardless of projects’ size. When followed, the life cycle ensures that customer and quality expectations are met, and successful project plans are executed to bring the project to a successful end.

5. Rank each project’s priority level.

Once the information has been organized in this way, you will be able to rank each project quantitatively, as a team, with in-depth discussion, and determine its level of priority. Since this process can be very time-consuming, it is advisable to use a facilitator to assist the committee with this part of the process. The more complete the project scope statements, the more accurate the decisions will be on the project prioritization because project scope helps to identify the missing elements in the foundations for all projects.

6. Get senior management approval on the final ranking of projects.

Senior management should review the final ranking your committee has given the projects so they are aware of what projects are currently in progress and their expected relative impact to the organization. With the information you provide, they will be able to determine which projects should move forward and which should be eliminated.


The project prioritization process is an important part of the organization’s overall planning process. It will likely save your organization millions of dollars in resources that will trickle right down to the bottom line if you eliminate low priority projects or those that do not help to support the organization or departmental strategic plans.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

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