How To Prioritise Projects

A Simple System To Prioritise Projects


Most of the time we have too many projects on the go which makes prioritising projects a nightmare. If we knew how to prioritise projects better then we’d get more done.

But it’s not just getting more stuff done that will grow your business.  No, It’s doing the right stuff and focusing on the right projects which will have the biggest impact and take your business to the next level.

Consequently, in order to focus on the right things you need to be able to prioritise projects and prioritise them well so that you can accelerate the growth in your business.

The following is a simple system which you can use to prioritise projects.

This is a system I first read about in Jack Welch’s book Winning. Welch was the former head of General Electric (GE) and he introduced a system known as Workout.

 Workout is a great and simple method to use to prioritise projects.


How To Use Workout To Prioritise Projects


To use workout to prioritise projects, gather all your team members together and have them draw up a list of all the projects that you could possibly complete in the coming year. (Maybe you already have the list to hand).

Write the name of each project from the list you are looking to prioritise on to a Post-It note (I like multi coloured Post-It notes )and stick each Post-It note on to a white board so everyone can see them.

Then group all of the project Post-It notes you have on the whiteboard by business area (for example; sales, marketing, production, design etc).

Then count up the projects in each business area and divide that by the number of people in your team.

For example, say you had 20 projects and 5 team members, that would be 4 projects each. 

This number of projects then becomes the number of votes that each team member will have.  If it’s an odd number of projects then round it to the nearest whole number.

Then once you have all the projects categorised it’s time for the team members to vote on which projects they want to take forward.


Vote on the priority of projects


Have each team member come up to the whiteboard and have them vote on the projects that they think will have the most impact on achieving the overall vision of the business that you’ve already all agreed and outlined before the meeting.

If you haven’t agreed what your goal and vision is then you’ll need to work out  this first, because if you aren’t sure of what you’re looking to achieve, then you won’t know which projects will take you there.

So, assuming you are agreed, have the team cast their votes.

Once the team has had all their votes, simply count the number of votes against each project.

Those projects which scored no votes should be immediately eliminated.  With the remaining projects, simply rank the projects for each category area based upon return on investment.


Further refining


If you’ve got no more than 1-2 projects in each each area, then you’re pretty much good to go, but sometimes it’s quite possible to have more than 3-4 projects in any one area.

But in my experience, having too many projects to do, no matter how good an idea or how large the size of the benefit or even the size of the return on investment, it simply means that nothing gets done.

This is because the more projects you have on the go the more they will inevitably generate problems and inevitably noise.  Which means that the projects will always be competing for the time energy and attention of the team.

And distractions take your eye off of the ball.

When you have too many projects on the go it’s a little like getting a whole lot of sheep through a gate on sheep pen at the same time. They all get stuck and on top of one another and nothing gets through.

This is why I usually like to limit the projects committed to no more than 2-3 for each area. You can always move to the next projects on the list when the first two projects get done.

Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.
Paul J Meyer

Map the Key Projects


Once you have a prioritised list of projects, it’s time to prioritise projects further by taking all the key points of the project by entering them into a simple master spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Project number
  • Project name
  • Goal supported
  • Number of votes
  • Month project starts date
  • Month projects end date
  • Anticipated Project Cost
  • Anticipated Savings
  • Number of Days to complete
  • The business areas impacted (a column for each area e.g. Finance, Sales, IT, HR etc and place an X in each column where that area will be impacted by the project)


The spreadsheet should look some thing like this (Click image to enlarge):

Prioritise Projects

Once you have everything entered into the spreadsheet with the extra data, you’ll be able to prioritise projects a little further by reducing the projects where you see bottlenecks in certain areas, e.g. projects requiring IT input.

The projects that looked important at the first cut will have to wait until the other projects have been completed, because attempting them will inevitably cause problems.


Agreed Project Priorities


Finally, the list of projects you have left will be a complete list of prioritised projects aligned to growing your business and everyone on the team will have a common understanding and an agreed view as to what to focus upon.

And the agreed list of project priorities view of what to focus on will help accelerate your business growth by focusing on the right things at the right time that make the biggest difference to your business.



Advice to Implement The GE Workout


Here’s an interview [43:33] on CEO Talk Radio: The GE Workout, Robert Barnwell talks to Steve Kerr, the former Vice-President of Leadership Development and Chief Learning Officer at GE’s Crontronville Leadership Centre, about the GE Workout Process.  Steve is also author of the book: “The GE Work-Out: How to Implment GE’s Revolutionary Method  for Busting Bureaucracy and Attacking Organisational Problems – Fast!”

In this interview he talks about i) the unerlying principles of workout ii) planning, conducting a workout and iii) how to use workout to develop effective, visionary leaders.


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