Prioritization matrix for business leaders

What is the most important project that you are working on right now? 

Yes, we agree with you; priority one is obviously savoring your morning coffee while it’s hot. But after coffee, then what’s next? Is it whatever projects your top leaders have come up with? In our experience, we see that many leaders tend to prioritize their own ideas and projects as a high priority. The real question is, would your team or employees do the same for you? Would they put the same level of urgency and importance on your project ideas as you do, or would they secretly think your idea is a colossal waste of time?

Today’s post is about how to properly prioritize your projects so that they’re completed in a timely manner with as few headaches or roadblocks as possible. Spoiler alert: you may find that some of your most important projects aren’t really the most important (and that’s okay).

When gauging the importance of projects, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is this a good idea?
  2. Is my team capable of executing this project successfully?
  3. What project(s) should be deprioritized if there is not enough bandwidth to execute this project effectively?

That last question is one that often goes unasked but is critical to avoiding workforce overload or burnout. 

You run the risk of prioritizing the wrong projects

Another concern with overloading your team with too many projects, whether high priority or low priority, is that often, great ideas get poor results due to lack of time and people power. Not only do you get a less-than-desirable project outcome, but you also run the risk of projects not getting completed at all.

So, we have a two-fold focus here. One is that you need to be sure you’re prioritizing activities within your chosen projects in the most efficient and effective manner. Second, is that you need to be sure you’re prioritizing your laundry list of projects in the most efficient and effective manner.

The 2×2 matrix

The introduction of a simple yet effective prioritization matrix can be a game-changer when it comes to actually completing tasks and meeting deadlines. 

It’s a basic matrix that focuses on a two-axis quadrant to keep you on track and allow you to assess everything on your plate and understand where to put your attention in order to get the right things done.

It looks something like this:

Quick wins: activities that give the most return based on the effort. These actions should be prioritized and completed first in order to drive your project forward quickly and easily.
Major projects: more complex action items that take more effort to execute but provide big key returns.
Fill-ins: unimportant junk that everyone wants to do because it’s easy but doesn’t really do much to promote progress.
Time wasters: time-consuming action items that really should just be axed or delegated because they have no huge impact on project completion.

Running into bottlenecks with multiple projects is a common problem for many companies.

The beauty of this Matrix is that not only can you use it to prioritize specific action items within a project, but you can also use it to prioritize your laundry list of actual projects, just like we discussed above. This can go a long way to helping you complete your company’s most important projects and seeing which ones can possibly be put on the back burner.

This type of prioritization matrix can also help you realize how much money, time, and people power certain activities and projects are going to require. Use it to prioritize your processes, criteria, costs, budget, and other resources so that you can be sure you’re getting the most out of what you have to work with.

It’s okay to de-prioritize projects

Senior leaders in an organization have a fundamental responsibility to make decisions about project prioritization. It’s important for you to understand that sometimes the truly good ideas don’t get the high priority they deserve and that it is likely going to be necessary to deprioritize projects in order to ensure completion of the top ones (even if one of the projects that gets deprioritized is yours). 

Taking on fewer things at one time allows you to get more done overall. Just imagine that your initiatives are like evil henchmen sent to attack your team. Your heroes can vanquish any one of these foes with no problem – but if you send all of them in at once, there’s no chance. Allowing the time, space, and focus to complete a single project allows you to approach new ones from a comfortable, organized perspective versus the chaotic cluster of having multiple unfinished items on your checklist and trying to add more to an already full plate.

One of the toughest things to do as a leader is to decide if you want to pull the plug on a project prior to completion in order to push through a more impactful project that will yield better results. It’s tough to put a project on the back burner when you and your team have already invested a lot of time and effort into it, but making these tough choices for the greater good is why you get paid the big bucks.

The pitfalls of the project buffet

Think of your list of projects, like being at an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you have plenty of your favorite foods to choose from, are you really going to go for the vegetables? If you can have as much mac and cheese, crab legs, spaghetti, and meatballs (insert your favorite unhealthy food here), are you really going to force yourself to get the salad?

You know the answer…

The same can be said about your smorgasbord of open and uncompleted projects. Most often, if given a choice, your team will work on their favorites or the newest, most interesting ones and shy away from doing the tasks they know they need to do but don’t necessarily want to do in order to bring a project to completion. 

Clarity is king when it comes to the timely completion of projects.

This type of Matrix helps provide clear expectations and reasonable deadlines for everyone involved. Doesn’t that sound glorious? A utopian workplace in which your team members know their roles, expectations, and deadlines and are efficiently working toward meeting them?

Here’s another wrench in the plan, though, just for added fun: 

As a leader, you have to be sure that you’re not coming from a place of unconscious incompetence when it comes to prioritizing projects or your action steps within them.

What if everything you’ve assessed as being a high priority or high impact has been erroneously based on your level of incompetence? How would you even know? You’ll figure it out pretty quickly when your list of high-impact action items fails to yield stellar results or move your project toward completion in a timely manner. 

Get clear

Here’s the thing, you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. How can you if you don’t know what you don’t know?

We can then help you set forth the proper action steps within the proper categories so that you and your team can have the satisfaction of seeing projects get completed effectively and on time. 

Quit playing “pin the tail on the donkey” with your business and let us help you make real progress that will greatly impact your bottom line and company satisfaction.


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