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A Solution to the Prioritization Problem

No matter what your company does, the right project management software is essential to completing jobs in a timely and efficient manner, especially when you have several in process at once—which we all do! Taking the time to select the right software features for your unique team is important, and it’s crucial that it works with your processes and job roles in order for your team to be successful. But software alone isn’t enough.

Teams struggle with conflict when multiple projects/deliverables have the same, or nearly the same, due dates. A tug-of-war begins between account managers/liaisons jockey for time and resources for their clients. Allocating resources is always a challenge, and this creates an environment where stakeholders are competing for resources by either going out of process, under the table, or most often—being the loudest.

Our challenge as project managers and creative teams becomes prioritizing these competing projects in a non-emotional, non-biased way that puts clients and job requests on a level playing field.

There are a couple of very useful tools our team uses that have dramatically changed the way we approach our work. These tools also help us communicate with our customers in a more positive and proactive manner that sets expectations and helps us all stay on schedule and task.

Two of these tools are our Emergency Triage Decision Tree and our Prioritization Model. One helps us define and communicate outward an understanding of a “real” business emergency. The other helps us prioritize the work we do based on company and departmental goals, along with deadlines and audience for the deliverables.

Emergency Triage
Everyone has a stake in representing their customers and their projects, and thus everyone wants their projects done ASAP. Defining and understanding what’s truly an emergency is crucial to prioritizing work. To be effective there must be a clear process, with full management support, for identifying an emergency and determining how it will be handled within the team. Using your business process and type of work, you can develop questions to accurately define what’s “on fire” and how it compares to other projects by using a triage model. This lets us help our clients understand how we approach their requests and what defines our business needs.

Prioritization Scoring
Another way to make objective decisions about projects is to use a scoring system. Your system should define and weigh all of the project variables so that a job is scored based on objective variables and how they compare with other projects. Variables can include company goals, departmental goals, final due date, time until due date, resource time required to complete project, urgency to the business and other factors that define your business. Each variable is given a weight, and those weights added together provide a score. Again, for this to work, leadership has to assist in defining the variables and their weights, along with supporting and adhering to it for it to be effective (or at least agree with your proposed methodology).

Those are just three ways to keep your business on track: selecting the right software to manage and track your projects and assignment; building a model to define emergencies; and developing an objective way to prioritize jobs. None of these are small undertakings, and each one requires a significant amount of time and effort to define, gain support and roll out. You must be serious about making changes to your processes and way of thinking, and you must have leadership support. It’s critical that you educate your clients (at least on a high level) about how you will address their projects.

What we’ve found after implementing these tools is that our clients feel better informed and have a better understanding of when their request will be complete. The team operates more smoothly because there are clear priorities based on business needs. Daily emergencies become a thing of the past, and true emergency work can be slotted in more effectively, with less disruption. No one tool or set of tools is a magic wand, but working together to have everyone following the same processes and expectations can lead to a more effective team for your company.


Ann Buice

Ann is the Production and Fulfillment Manager at United Guaranty Corporation, an AIG company, where she manages the flow of projects through the company’s Marketing and Communications division. Her extensive project management experience includes 21 years at Coca-Cola and eight years at The Compass Group (Foodbuy, LLC). Her experience includes implementing and training for new systems, account management and analysis and business and process improvements.

Ann studied Business Administration, Management, and Operations at Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia, and resides with her family in Atlanta.