Too Many Projects? Prioritize Them!

A Web-Published Article by Michael Greer
Version 2, September 22, 2011 

Too Many Projects…

Does your organization have more projects than it can handle? It’s easy for smart, creative people to generate lots of good ideas for projects. And soon, if you’re not careful, you can easily have more projects going than you have people, time, and money to complete them.  When your list of pending projects becomes overwhelming, you’ve got to figure out how to sort through them and prioritize them. But how do you separate the high priority projects from those that are less important? The answer: You need to develop some sort of objective prioritization criteria, then apply these to your list of pending projects.

Prioritize Your Projects

In my PM classes and consulting, I’ve worked with many organizations to help them develop a customized approach, based on their unique organization’s values, to compare projects and prioritize them. Then, after their projects are prioritized, the organization can fund and support the higher-priority projects, leaving the lower-priority projects to be completed later, when more resources are available.

Note: It’s particularly important that project prioritization criteria be locally-developed, since these should reflect your organization’s unique strategic directions, values, and business priorities. While I can’t help you figure out what’s important to your organization, I can share with you a generic approach that can be a springboard for developing your own, custom-tailored prioritization scheme.

A Generic Approach to Prioritizing Projects

Here’s a simple, generic, 3-step approach to prioritizing your project list:

1. Determine your criteria and create a ranking scale for discriminating among projects. For example:

  • Strategic Value: Is it important to our organization’s overall strategies? [1 = Highly important 5 = Not important]
  • Ease: Will this project be fairly easy to complete? [1 = Very easy 5 = Very difficult]
  • Financial Benefit: Will the project’s deliverables likely yield financial benefit? [1 = Highly likely 5 = Not likely]
  • Cost: Will this project likely cost a lot? [1 = Low cost 5 = High cost]
  • Resource Impact: Will this project have a great impact on our resources (people, equipment, etc.)?
    [1 = Low impact 5 = High impact]

NOTE: You can, of course, add and change criteria. You can also weight certain criteria to give them more value in the overall score. Be creative! It’s your organization, your values, and your prioritization scheme!

2. Make a grid or table with the names of your prioritization criteria across the top and the names of potential projects down the left column.

3. Review each project and apply a value (based on the ranking scale) for each of the criteria. Then add up the total scores for each project, divide them by the number of criteria and determine their priority. This step might be completed in two stages: First, individually, by managers or supervisors from various organizations that provide resources (people, facilities, equipment, and money) to projects. Second, as a group effort with these managers and supervisors getting together to compare notes on their prioritization results to develop a master list of prioritized projects that everyone agrees on.

Below is an example of a completed project prioritization worksheet:


In broad terms, this entire process of prioritizing projects is typically conducted across functional lines, often by the heads of the organization’s different departments or their designees. Taken together, these people sometimes develop a working team referred to as the “project office” who meet regularly to try to manage the overall collection of active and pending projects as a “project portfolio.”

For more info on project portfolio management, see What’s Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and Why Should Project Managers Care About It?


(New) Update: Using Software to Prioritize Projects, Allocate Resources, & Manage Your Project Portfolio

As you can see, it would be easy to create and adjust the chart above using Excel or some other spreadsheet program. Better yet, you might want to use one of the new, specialized software tools specifically designed to help you prioritize projects, weigh alternatives, allocate resources, and generally manage your project portfolio. For example, MakeItRational allows you to create a detailed comparison of alternatives and expedite your decision making.

Screen from Make It Rational software

To see how this software works, check out the brief tutorial and video  demo at (Note: You can experiment with this software yourself by clicking “Try It Now” button at the MakeItRational website.)


Do you like this article? The  latest edition of The Project Manager’s Partner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Project Management contains 57 tools, checklists, and guidelines to help project managers. For more information, click on the link above or phone HRD Press at (800) 822-2801.

Posted: June 25th, 2008 under Project Management.
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