How Should You Prioritise Your Priorities

March 12, 2021

It can sometimes feel like there is more to do than we can cope with. In both our personal and professional lives, we need to prioritise. This is even more important for an organisation. An individual might review and reorder their priorities, as necessary. However, an organisation is made up of lots of individuals who need to agree on their priorities and consider them when decision making.


With limited resources you can’t do everything and it’s unrealistic to follow-up on every idea. Choosing our priorities helps us to decide which project to focus on first.


It's hard to know where to start if you find yourself with too many priorities with limited, or no, logic linking them. They may even conflict. For example, if you want to be profitable, create an exceptional customer experience and do leading research all at once, you will need to prioritise your priorities. A simple approach is to look for the highest return on investment, whether that’s money, time, reputation, or something else. Arrange the initiatives in order of value and pick the highest returns. It doesn’t require much thought, and it’s an excellent strategy for an investment portfolio - provided you have a clever way to factor in risk and the reliability of your predictions. However, it makes little sense in almost any other context because business and life are complex; circumstances might change from one day to the next and you end up back where you started! With an investment portfolio, you need to balance risk. For example, to guard against cryptocurrency going wrong, you might limit your cryptocurrency holding to 10% of the whole and invest in biotechnology or agribusiness. So, although the ‘highest rate of return’ can be a popular approach, it’s not very useful in reality.


It’s easy to lose your way with the wrong priorities. You may wish to prioritise a set of initiatives to keep costs low, maximize profitable income, and increase satisfaction.

  • In order to keep costs low – you don’t invest in research and development (don’t fund next year’s products), and don’t train staff (affecting recruitment and retention, and the quality of your workers).
  • To maximise profitable income – you chase after profitable product lines and drop the less profitable ones (customers don’t see your brand name).
  • To increase satisfaction – you overwhelm customers with questionnaires which will always get the right answer… ‘are you neutral, happy, or ecstatic?’

Your three priorities will soon conflict with one another, and you will lose customers before you even know they are unhappy or that their tastes have changed! Most organisations need an overriding purpose to which all priorities contribute, such as ‘to organise the world’s information and make it accessible and useful’ (Google).


Once you know your purpose, you can prioritise all of your other priorities.

Figure: Hierarchy of Purpose by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, adapted by in how many top priorities should you have? (Hugo Minney, 2019)

  1. Purpose: why does the organization exist, and why is the work you do important? What is the best way to plan and deliver that purpose (Scenario Planning)? What is the strategic vision that underpins the purpose?
  2. Priorities: given the purpose and strategic vision, what matters most? There will be long-term priorities, 2-5-year priorities, and short-term priorities - and they need to be consistent.
  3. Projects: once you know the priorities and the hierarchy of priorities, you are able to align projects to the purpose and vision. Which projects are aligned and should be resourced, and which ones are not and should be deferred or scrapped?
  4. People: some people achieve better results than others. Who are the best people to manage the projects that align to the priorities? What is the opportunity cost of assigning them to one project rather than another? How can you mitigate the assignment issue and achieve the best for programs or the entire portfolio?
  5. Performance: we often link indicators of project performance to inputs - the so-called ‘iron triangle’ of time, cost, and quality. Project outputs are much easier to track than business outcomes, such as benefits and goals. It is the business outcomes and outcome-related targets that really matter. They show that value has been created and provide evidence of progress.


You can only enforce priorities if you measure what’s actually happening on the ground. We all have our ‘pet projects’, and some people have the knack of being able to push them through - even if they don’t contribute to a priority. With standards you can determine what contribution each initiative makes to your intermediate priorities and to your top priority. You can then decide where to invest limited resources. Benefits management enables you to monitor the return on investment in a wide range of initiatives and determine their contribution to the priorities you have set. You will know where and when to cut your losses or how and when to invest more – all of which is likely to depend on changes in your business environment.


Figure: Screenshot of Amplify scenario comparison

As corporations, companies and entire industries become project-based, aligning programs and projects with business strategy is vital. Amplify simplifies prioritizing your portfolio with its ability to select, prioritize and sequence initiatives based on return on investment (ROI), net present value (NPV) and overall contribution to the investment portfolio. Associated threats such as risks, assumptions, issues, and dependencies (RAID) are also managed at the same time. Upcoming and in-flight investments can also be re-prioritized to ensure they continue to represent good value for money. Amplify dashboards are used to analyze portfolios, communicate trade-offs and finalize investment decisions, providing you with a great deal of insight which can be put to good use. When negative variance from plan occurs, simply drill down to inspect child-initiatives, discover the underlying cause, and take appropriate corrective action. With Amplify, prioritising your priorities couldn’t be simpler.

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