How to Prioritize Projects in a Corporate Company

Sept. 12, 2018

Prioritization is something we all do daily, yet most of us never take time to formally develop the skill. We choose to go with our gut feeling, or what “makes sense” at the time.

When I was a firefighter, we had to make decisions quickly about where the most good can be done with the resources available. You’re forced to use your gut with limited time, and you can’t always make the right decisions. In the corporate world, we have more time to evaluate the situation and create a strategy about where to invest our resources. Yet for some reason, we revert to making quick decisions without strategizing. This approach leaves us vulnerable to prioritizing based on emotions, peer pressure and lack of data.

Learning to strategically prioritize projects will allow you to achieve the best results because your limited resources will be directed towards the most important projects first.

Make Time to Set Priorities

Dedicate some time during your work day or week to set priorities. The most valuable time of my workday is the first half-hour in the morning, when I have a cup of coffee and dedicate that time solely to evaluating and setting my priorities for the day. You may be tempted to jump right into the day’s challenges as they arise, but the half hour pays dividends far beyond the daily investment. The concept can be flexible to what works best for you, but I can’t stress enough the principle of dedicating time to set and assess priorities. Prioritization on the fly works OK in a pinch, but is far less effective in the long run.

Ensure Your Projects have Measurable Value

You’ll struggle to earn congratulations on a project if you can’t prove it was valuable. Be prepared to be challenged on the value of your proposals and accomplishments. Every project requires investment, even if the investment is just your time. For others to evaluate the return on that investment, you need to have a defined and measurable way to give the project merit. It’s not enough to say “this will make the process faster, easier or cheaper.” You need to show exactly how much time, money or resources you expect to use and how much can be gained. Once you have a measurable value for each of your projects, it becomes much easier to prioritize them.

Align Your Projects with the Bigger Picture

No matter where you stand on the corporate ladder, your work impacts the effectiveness of the business as a whole. To be recognized for your efforts, it’s imperative to align your work with the broader goals of the organization. This is actually very simple to do. At the highest level, every organization has at least a mission statement, but in many cases there are also annual and quarterly goals. Likewise, your department probably has a list of goals, and your boss may even have goals for you as an individual. You should try to understand the goals of every level from the bottom up. When considering a project, ask yourself, “How does this contribute to those goals?” If you can’t easily answer that, you should seek feedback regarding the project’s merit. Even if your project proposes a better way to do something, it needs to aligned with the broader scope to be worthy of the effort.

Record Your Priorities & Progress

Documenting your priorities is just as important as setting them. In order to stay focused on what comes first, you need to have a list to refer back to. It’s also important to document your priorities in case there are questions. I’ve adopted the practice of publishing my priorities for those that have a vested interest in my progress (such as a manager, department head or team). By publishing your list, you ensure your tasks remain aligned with the team and organization, and you build trust by providing greater transparency into your efforts. I like to add a progress bar, estimated time to completion and visuals to help communicate how the project is coming along and why I thought it was a priority in the first place. Don’t get overwhelmed by adding too much data at first though. All you really need to get started is a numbered list.

Good luck in completing your projects!

Author: Justin Tettenborn

Justin Tettenborn
Justin Tettenborn is a microbiologist with broad experience in medical device manufacturing throughout the product life cycle; including product invention, initial and ongoing quality testing, and sterilization. His passion is leading teams across diverse disciplines to support organizations in building a reputation of quality and trust.