Project Prioritisation 101: Where Do I Start?

Catalina Bonavia | 14 December 2020


Prioritisation is challenging because it means that you need to leave features or projects for later, but it also means that you are delivering, adding value to your customers, and keeping your stakeholders engaged and happy. Find out where to start here.

Prioritisation is challenging. Think about the last time you had a great project on your hands…you and your team are excited to deliver, but where to start from? Iyou try to do everything at the same time then it’s highly likely to lose traction and people’s motivations, you may end up getting all our stakeholders bored of hearing little pieces of the millions of moving partwith no results or outcomes, and that usually ends with projects being put on pause… indefinitely  

The same happens when you need to deploy this fantastic new platform that solves all your customer’s problems at once. It takes SO long to develop every single detail, that when it is ready to go live, your customers do not have that problem anymore. 

So yes, prioritisation is challenging because it means that you need to leave features or projects for later, but it also means that you are delivering, adding value to your customers, keeping your stakeholders engaged and happy. And therefore, having time and budget for the next phase!  

Here’s a story… in 2018 I was designing the Employee Experience at RMIT, in this specific case we were focusing on the first 6 months of new employees coming into the University.  

After co-designing the experience with customers (hiring managers and new starters) and all the services and processes that needed to happen to deliver that experience we needed to plan how to make it happen! 

Here are 3 things you need to explore before defining what to do first: 

1) CERTAINTY: Do your customers REALLY value what you’re planning to do? 

The first part was prototyping the experience with real new starters and hiring managers to test if our designs worked (or not), get feedback, and iterate. We did that with 10 new starters over the course of 2 weeks (the time that we had between presentations to stakeholders)Prototyping experiences meant running cross-campus delivering things and making experiences happen (that’s also another hilarious story to be told later) 

By the end of those two weeks, we had conducted interviews and done surveys to understand where we were standing, we took that back to our stakeholder’s meeting. 

2) IMPACT: How much value does that project/feature add to your customers and business? 

From those experiences or features that we knew were valuable for our customers, we asked our stakeholders to rate the impact that each of them would have in the organisationWhat is the impact that enabling new starters to connect with others has? Or even what is the impact of having a new starter engaged during the time that goes from signing the contract to the first day has 

3) EFFORT: How much time and money goes to develop and deliver such experiences? 

Once we had the list of initiatives ranked based on impact, we needed to also rank them based on effort. To do that we gave each participant a set of 3 cards, high effort, medium effort, and low effort, and asked them to, at the same time, show a card to tell us how much effort each initiative would take from their point of view – and the key, if there is a disagreement you need to open it for discussion, let people share why they think it is either extremely easy or awfully hard and then ask them to vote again 

So, by the end we had, all the initiatives we were certain the customers valued, mapped in a matrix, and here is how you know which ones to do when: 

High effort – High Impact: Break them down into lower effort projects.

High effort – Low Impact: Do not do them, yet.

Low Effort – High Impact: Why aren’t you doing them yet? 

Low effort – Low impact: Friday afternoon tasks.

It is very normal to start the other way around, Effort, then Impact and then (sometimes) Certainty, but from my point of view why would you analyse the effort that it takes to build a feature that nobody cares about?  

Are you running a prioritisation workshop? We got you covered, send us an email and we’ll send you the workshop pack or help you run it if you prefer!


Catalina Bonavia Head of Service Design @Three6