Prioritisation Matrix

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Smartsheet Contributor Kate Eby on Jul 18, 2018

In the information age, data-driven analysis guides business priorities. Using gut feeling and experience to plan projects, develop products, or direct valuable resources isn’t a sound business strategy — it’s guesswork. Products and services evolve in a digital-dependent economy, and you need tools and techniques that help you prioritize limited resources and make decisions in order to keep up with the rapid pace of competition and customer demand.

Completing a 2×2 Risk Prioritization Matrix Risk mapping is one of the most important activities an entrepreneur should conduct when laying out a potential business model. A 2×2 matrix is a common technique used in lean startup, design thinking, and agile. Prioritization Matrix Example: Product In the example above (a screenshot of ProductPlan’s Planning Board), a product team has used the Planning Board for weighing a set of initiatives (shopping cart improvements, a mobile mockup, etc.) against each other across a custom set of benefits and costs. What is MoSCoW Prioritization? MoSCoW prioritization, also known as the MoSCoW method or MoSCoW analysis, is a popular prioritization technique for managing requirements. The method is commonly used to help key stakeholders understand the significance of initiatives in a specific release.

This article features an overview of project prioritization, including different prioritization methods and how to create and use a priority matrix for project requirements planning. Plus, download free priority matrix templates to get started.

Product Prioritization Matrix Template

Formatted with sample criteria to get you started, this priority matrix features weighted formulas that calculate quantifiable priority scores. Modify the template to fit your product development process, and use the results to evaluate what-if project scenarios and compare trade-offs for project planning and resource allocation.


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Task Prioritization Matrix Template

To-do lists have a minimal impact on overall productivity and quickly become an exercise in list-building overtaking action. Use this template to prioritize project tasks and determine which activities to tackle (and which ones to delegate or eliminate) in order to make the most efficient use of your time. Modify the quadrants to reflect your personal assessment criteria and manage your most valuable resource.

Download Task Prioritization Matrix Template

Excel Word PDF

Incident Priority Matrix Template

Use this incident priority matrix template to organize, rank, and respond to your IT service ticket requests. The template is formatted as an action priority matrix and features a coded priority matrix key to quickly determine the impact and urgency of each incident.


Requirements Prioritization Matrix Template

Use this requirements prioritization matrix template to evaluate and prioritize software development requirements, features, or use cases. The matrix is designed to evaluate several criteria and avoid the influence of context, the different views of multiple stakeholders, and the customer/user needs when planning project requirements.

What Is a Priority Matrix in Project Management?

A priority matrix (or prioritization matrix) is an analysis and decision-making tool used in project management, business analysis, and business process improvement systems like Six Sigma. In Six Sigma, project selection is critical to the overall quality improvement process. Using a priority matrix tool for project prioritization and selection is a practical application of project planning and analysis techniques, made accessible by authors Michael Brassard (The Memory Jogger 2) and David Allen (Getting Things Done).

Priority matrix tools provide project stakeholders with a resource to resolve disagreements openly, narrow down all proposals to the best solutions, and increase the chances of a successful project by avoiding hidden agendas and promoting consensus. Use these tools when it is necessary to evaluate several criteria and avoid the influence of context, the different views of multiple stakeholders, and the customer/user needs in project (or product) prioritization and planning phases. For example, using a semi-quantitative, analytical approach, you can utilize priority matrix tools to screen project proposals and gain buy-in from project sponsors and executive leadership.

Priority matrix diagrams are a category of quantitative analytical tools found within the seven management tools (or 7M tools) of the Six Sigma method. Prioritization matrices are visual diagrams. Using weighted criteria formulas, deploy these matrices in order to display and compare two or more sets of data by applying L-shaped columns that compare input and quantify items. Author Lynne Hambleton discusses the three types of priority matrix methods in detail in her book Treasure Chest of Six Sigma Growth Methods, Tools, and Best Practices:

  • Full Analytical Criteria: This is the most complex and rigorous method, reserved for the most critical issues, according to Hambleton. This method is ideal for smaller teams of three to eight people. (Multiple matrices with a broader perspective make it hard to reach complete consensus on priorities.)
  • Consensus Criteria: If you need a priority matrix tool to compare project requirement options that appear to be equal, this method builds a simplified version of the full analytical criteria matrix. The consensus criteria method uses weighted voting and ranking: Applyi a numerical value to the item set under analysis in order to determine the best option. Use a limited number of items and criteria (less than 10) to minimize complexity.
  • Combination Matrix: This is the simplest method for creating a priority matrix that helps determine cause-and-effect relationships. The combination matrix also prioritizes the items or options under analysis to figure out which to address first. It is therefore causal-based — not criteria-based like the other methods — and requires an experienced team with knowledge of the process. The method combines a tree diagram with an L-shaped matrix format and uses symbols like arrows (instead of numerical scores) to identify priorities.

What Is a Project Screening Matrix?

A project screening matrix is a tool used to screen projects by listing each one against different categories of weighted screening criteria. The result is a qualitative score given to each project that can be compared and ranked to determine which projects to approve. The criteria vary and come from a variety of sources, including internal stakeholders, project sponsors, investors, business use cases, and customer use cases and demand.

How to Prioritize Projects with a Priority Matrix

With a focus on collaboration and team planning, project prioritization is a method for selecting the highest priority projects when comparing several choices. Creating a consensus criteria-based priority matrix involves setting a goal, selecting criteria, choosing how to quantify the importance of each criterion, and using this value set to compare the weighted priority score of each item under analysis.

Adapted from Hambleton’s procedures for using the consensus criteria method, the following guide will help you create a product (or project) prioritization matrix for your team. Download the product prioritization matrix template below and follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Meet with all stakeholders, especially those closest to the customer, and agree on the items that need to be prioritized (e.g., features, products, or tasks). This process requires time and effort because the team must brainstorm and organize data and assess the various decisions involved (customer satisfaction, cost, benefits, and risks). Determine the purpose of the prioritization process for the items under analysis. For example, you may want to prioritize the features under development for a new software product.
  • Step 2: Determine the list of assessment criteria and choose the appropriate values for evaluating the data under analysis. Utilizing the L-shaped matrix format of the template, use the first column to modify the list of items you want to prioritize. Modify or use the sample assessment criteria in the first row (ten or fewer columns), and list items in order of the most important to the least critical.
  • Step 3: Determine the weighted value of the assessment criteria. The total weight must equal one hundred percent in order to create an accurate priority score (total score). Record the criteria weight in the area provided for each criterion.
  • Step 4: Score or rank each item against each weighted criteria column by using a value scale of whole integers, from 0 (lowest impact) to 5 (highest impact), based on the value (relative importance) your team has determined for each criterion. Do this for all the items you’ve listed.
  • Step 5: Complete the consensus criteria method for your product priority matrix by evaluating (from highest to lowest priority) the stacked ranking of your item set. You can sort the total score column to reflect the order of importance if you are looking to eliminate or delegate low-impact tasks.

What Is a Prioritization Template?

A prioritization template is a tool (usually a spreadsheet) that helps you take a diverse set of data — a list of tasks, items, requirements, features, or products — and reveal a hierarchy of importance based on agreed upon assessment criteria and value (both quantitative and qualitative). You can also use a prioritization template to create a priority matrix.

How to Create a Requirements Prioritization Matrix

Author and consultant Karl Wiegers created an eight-step project prioritization model and priority matrix to help teams resolve conflicts and make necessary trade-offs when prioritizing new feature requirements for a product (for example, a new software release), given certain project resources and limitations. Wieger developed his prioritization method in order to counter the rigor of existing methods for priority-ranking the requirements common in software development projects — namely, quality function deployment (QFD) and total quality management (TQM).

Create an L-shaped matrix spreadsheet by using the first column to list each feature requirement (that needs to be prioritized) and the top row to list the following weighted prioritization criteria:

  • Relative Benefit: This criterion represents the benefit of the product to the customer and the business, as indicated by how the product’s business requirements align with the needs of both parties. Wieger recommends gathering data from those staff members who are close to the customer (e.g., sales teams and customer representatives) and having them review the matrix to judge relative benefit and other criteria.
  • Relative Penalty: This is an estimate of the penalty that the customer and the business suffer when the product’s business requirements don’t align with their needs.
  • Total Value: This represents the sum of the relative benefit and penalty. Wieger’s example also uses a total percentage column to measure the value of each feature requirement as a percentage of the total value.
  • Relative Cost: This represents an estimate of the relative cost of implementing each feature, including a separate column to calculate the percentage of the total cost for each feature requirement. Wieger’s example uses software development criteria, with the relative cost based on factors such as complexity, the extent of design work required, the ability to reuse existing code, and the extent and type of software testing necessary.
  • Relative Risk: This is an estimate of the relative degree of technical and business risk associated with each feature requirement, including a column to calculate the percentage of total risk for each feature. Cost and risk are weighted according to your preference, or set to zero value if you don’t want to consider risk criteria a factor.

After you’ve created your list of requirements or features, follow the steps for how to prioritize projects in the earlier section to calculate and rank your highest priority requirements. There isn’t a standard formula for creating a total priority score to rank your requirements. Tailor your formula and the weighting criteria and range of assessment value to your team’s focus and the purpose of the evaluation. Wieger uses the following formula: Requirement priority = value% divided by (cost% x cost weight + risk% x risk weight).

When competing priorities and limited resources start to determine which project requirements get attention, use a prioritization matrix to get on track. By adjusting the item set under analysis, the project criteria, the weighted value scale, and the formula for determining priority, you can create a product priority matrix to aid your team’s planning process.

How Do You Prioritize Work?

Assessing how to dedicate time and effort to projects is quality control for your life. Energy is a finite resource, so creating a system to determine what gets your attention and when — or gets delegated or deleted — is smart. This strategy entails creating a daily schedule to balance time and effort. Start by creating a fixed schedule of productivity, based on the tasks you rank as highest priority.

Some priority matrices use quantitative analysis to determine what takes precedence, but there is a qualitative approach, using an action priority matrix, to help you measure what is urgent and important at work.

What Is an Action Priority Matrix?

An action priority matrix is a simple tool — when compared to elaborate spreadsheet tools that require time, skill, and effort to create and manage — used by individuals to optimize their time and attention. The term refers to a four-quadrant (or 2x2) matrix model based on the type of time management principles attributed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower (the Eisenhower Decision Matrix or Eisenhower Box). This action (or task) priority matrix is inspired by the decision matrix that appears in author Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Action priority matrix models are used to manage time, the most limited resource of all project managers. They are also effective planning tools for any business process improvement strategy. They help you spend your time on quantifiable, objective data, rather than on guesswork.

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In Project Portfolio Management (PPM), PPM 101

In this post we will cover what a priority matrix is and how to use a prioritization matrix in the context of project portfolio management.

What is a Priority Matrix?

A priority matrix is a tool used to categorically prioritize types of work. It has three primary strengths: simplicity, speed, and applicability to all types of work (projects and operational work). A priority matrix is easy to understand and simple to use because calculations are not required.

The most simplistic prioritization matrix has three choices, the classic low/medium/high, but some organizations may utilize “must do”, “need to do”, “should do”, and “could do” priority assignments. In the example below, we expand this much further to provide a greater range of priority categories within the must do/need to do/should do/could do paradigm (each row representing a different level of impact). We can add an urgency dimension to the priority matrix by using three columns in the matrix below (each column representing a different level of urgency). In this way, we can further segment priorities across each impact level.

If no prioritization is done in an environment with a high volume of work requests, work intake simply becomes a matter of starting projects on a first-in/first-out basis, which violates the principles of portfolio management

This is valuable when organizations need a wider range of options for categorizing projects. Remember – a priority matrix is categorical prioritization (i.e. prioritization based on the category of work) and when there are more categories of work, greater segmentation is useful.

The Eisenhower Matrix Versus the Priority Matrix

The priority matrix we are talking about is a little different than what is referred to as an Eisenhower Matrix, which is focused on task management. The Eisenhower matrix is a 2×2 matrix that also applies urgency and importance. It is designed to help people prioritize tasks in order to focus on tasks that are most important and eliminate tasks that do not add value. The Eisenhower matrix resembles the priority matrix above, but the application of the priority matrix is on project work and operational work that commonly impacts more than one person. The priority matrix enables multiple categories of work to be prioritized so that a fair comparison can be made between types of work. The Eisenhower matrix does not support this.


Clickhere for a copy of these slides and a blank prioritization matrix template.

When Should a Prioritization Matrix Be Used?

Prioritisation Matrix

There are a few primary use cases for a priority matrix, which we will cover below:

High volume of project intake requests

In environments where there is a high volume of project requests, it may not be practical to apply a scoring model to each request in order to prioritize the work. A prioritization matrix can be used to triage large volumes of project requests to focus the organization on the most important and urgent projects. I have seen this approach used in organizations that received a high volume of different sized project requests. In this case, scoring would be an over-kill; the organization needed a way to focus on the most important work at that time. If no prioritization is done in this environment, work intake simply becomes a matter of starting projects on a first-in/first-out basis, which violates the principles of portfolio management.

Where there is a high volume of project and operational requests

A related scenario occurs when there is a high volume of both project requests and operational requests. In this case, it is imperative to distinguish true project work from operational work. This happens by having clear definitions of a project so that the organization can distinguish between project and operational work. However, some operational work may still require a lot of resource effort and may in fact be more important than some project work. Again, we would never suggest applying a project scoring model to operational work, but there needs to be a way to prioritize operational work from project work. This is where the simplicity of the priority matrix shines.

In one engineering organization, various safety requests, regulatory compliance requests, and other improvement requests would come to the different engineering teams. Certain safety and compliance requests were urgent and needed attention immediately, but other compliance requests were less urgent and could be out into a general work queue. By clearly identifying which safety and compliance requests were urgent and which ones were not, operational work could be prioritized. Furthermore, we had a specific place in the priority matrix for PMO project work. This allowed an “apples to apples” comparison of project and operational work so that resource managers knew how to assign their people to work.

As a simpler alternative to prioritize work without a scoring model

Prioritization matrices are good for organizations new to the portfolio management process. Due to the simplicity, organizations can quickly get the benefit of prioritization without spending the time to do a thorough scoring of each project. Even in organizations where projects are scored and ranked, prioritization matrices can be used for “pre-screening” purposes to do a preliminary prioritization. This would be commonly used in a gated governance process before a formal business case has been developed. A governance team could quickly determine a categorical priority for the project at an early gate review.

In addition, the topic of prioritization can be highly political in some organizations. Several years ago, a CIO stated that priorities give people an excuse not to do work. There was no prioritization in that department. The saying holds true, “if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority”. In other organizations, it goes against the culture to say ‘no’ and prioritizing work implies that work won’t get done or will get done later. In some cases, senior leaders may ask how all the work is still going to get done (in other words, if we prioritize, how will you ensure that the low priority work will still get done?). I use these examples to underscore that is not simply a method, but it affects leadership decision making and cultural work behaviors. Prioritization is also a natural part of portfolio planning. If organizations cannot say no to work requests, they don’t really have a portfolio management process and will sub-optimize business value delivery.

How Does a Priority Matrix Compare to a Scoring Model?

A prioritization matrix is simply a different approach to prioritizing work. It is not in conflict with a traditional scoring model (which we highly endorse as long you build your model correctly). In fact some companies may use both for selected use cases. The priority matrix is about categorical prioritization, prioritizing work based on the type of work request. Priority matrix software could also be used to prioritize tasks at a tactical level or help prioritize strategic related objectives; it can be used broadly . A scoring model on the other hand, takes into account multiple dimensions for evaluating project work and is used to determine relative project value. Furthermore, when evaluating multiple large projects, a scoring system will provide a more accurate analysis over a prioritization matrix.

Strengths of a priority matrix

Prioritization matrices have three primary strengths: simplicity, speed, and applicability to all types of work.

  • Prioritization matrices are easy to understand and simple to use.
  • Calculations are not required for determining the relative priority of a project.
  • It is most useful for prioritizing high volumes of work requests quickly
  • Because of its simplicity, prioritization becomes a much faster exercise and allows decision makers to quickly distinguish important projects from less important projects.
  • Various kinds of work can be prioritized using a prioritization matrix.
  • With a traditional scoring model, it is difficult to evaluate “keep the lights on” type of work, but with a prioritization matrix it is easier to compare priorities for project and non-project work.
  • It can provide a categorical ranking of projects in the portfolio

Weaknesses of a priority matrix

  • Prioritization matrices are unable to produce a discrete rank ordered list of projects in a portfolio
  • A priority matrix won’t help prioritize projects within the same category.
  • Prioritization matrices cannot do a good job of evaluating projects based on multiple criteria, and therefore cannot do a thorough job of distinguishing important projects from less important projects.

How to Build a Priority Matrix

There are a few basic steps to building a priority matrix.

  1. Determine segmentation required to categorically prioritize work. In the example shown above, there are 12 total options with 3 options for each row across the Must Do/Need To Do/Should Do/Could Do categories. There is nothing magical about a 4×3 matrix. Your organization may choose something smaller or larger.
  2. Identify the categories of work. In some instances, it is valuable to be more descriptive; break out work types into more categories as it makes sense. Example: At one engineering department, they got very prescriptive with the types of regulatory compliance requests coming in. Rather than just having a single category of regulatory compliance, it was broken out further based on the types of requests and how urgent they were.
  3. Map the categories of work to each cell of the matrix. In essence, what you are doing here is prioritizing the categories of work against each other. As you map categories of work you can compare this to other categories ranked higher and lower to determine whether the mapping fits the priority. This is an iterative exercise requiring feedback from multiple stakeholders to get approval for where each category of work maps to the matrix. This can also be a political exercise as not everyone may like how a certain category of work is assigned.
  4. Test out the priority matrix (“run water through the pipes”). Take some recent examples or project or operational work requests and map them to the priority matrix. Ask yourself whether these relative priorities feel right. Make adjustments as needed.
  5. Finalize and align with leadership. It can take a little time to get leadership alignment on the priority matrix. Based on experience, it is best to demonstrate how the priority matrix works in practice by showing some examples that the leadership team can relate to. Show them how simple the process is and how this will improve work performance.

Using a priority matrix in combination with Kanban is an excellent way to bring priorities and resource capacity together in a simplistic fashion

Priority Matrix Analysis

Percentage of Requests by Priority Category

You should conduct some level of analysis on your new priority matrix to understand its effectiveness. The simple example below shows the relative breakdown of the percentage of requests that fall into one of the four basic categories (we will see an example later where we break this down into more detail). The chart below shows us that a high percentage of requests are in the ‘Could Do’ category implying that a lot of low value work may be going on in the organization. By utilizing a priority matrix, you can get visibility of how much high-value versus low-value work is being done and start to limit the ‘Could Do’ work. In this way, you will quickly elevate the value of work being performed in the organization.

Prioritization Matrix Ppt

Before and After Analysis

If you are already using the basic High/Medium/Low priority designation, you can re-evaluate work using the priority matrix and then compare the results. The chart below highlights how you can evaluate priorities using the old method against the new method. In this example, the dots within the red box represent the requests that remain ‘high priority’ after using the priority matrix (note: for the purpose of analysis, items in categories 1-4 of the priority matrix were comparable to “high” priority work, items in categories 5-8 were comparable to “medium” priority work, and items 9-12 were considered “low” priority work). Several work requests that were previously marked as “high” priority actually fell lower in the priority ranking after the priority matrix was applied. In fact, one team saw a 35% decrease in high priority work items. This means the team could focus on the work that was truly most important. This highlights that a general “high”, “medium”, “low” priority evaluation were less effective than using the priority matrix, which helped the team focus on the truly high priority items.

Priority Matrix and Kanban

Finally, if you apply Kanban processes to your intake process while using the priority matrix, it can become very effective. Kanban is a simple approach to help control the flow of work by making visible all the work in progress. (For a quick overview of Kanban, I recommend a couple videos, one by Axosoft and the other by Atlassian, but please note that while this is often discussed in the context of software development, Kanban can be applied to managing many types of work). If you apply work-in-progress limits (WIP limits), then you can supercharge your intake process by fully controlling the amount of work people do without exceeding their capacity. Kanban is an excellent way to bring priorities and resource capacity together.

For organizations that see a high volume of work requests, these requests should be captured in a central location. Before starting work, a Manager can review the backlog of requests and apply the priority matrix to determine the initial priority of the work. Based on this evaluation, all work in the queue can be sequenced based on priority. Only when resources are available to begin new work will new assignments be given based on the WIP limits. This helps provide a steady stream of work without overloading the teams involved. This approach works for managing large volumes of project requests, operational requests, or a mix of both.

Prioritization Matrix Worksheet

If you have questions about how to develop a priority matrix or need expert help, contact us today.

Tim is a project and portfolio management consultant with 14 years of experience working with the Fortune 500. He is an expert in maturity-based PPM and helps PMO Leaders build and improve their PMO to unlock more value for their company. He is one of the original PfMP’s (Portfolio Management Professionals) and a public speaker at business conferences and PMI events.

What is a priority matrix?

A priority matrix is a tool used to categorically prioritize types of work. It has three primary strengths: simplicity, speed, and applicability to all types of work (projects and operational work). A priority matrix is easy to understand and simple to use because calculations are not required.

When Should a Prioritization Matrix Be Used?

Project Prioritization Criteria

There are a few primary use cases for a priority matrix: 1) When there is a high volume of project intake requests that need to be evaluated. 2) When there is a high volume of both project requests and operational requests that utilize common resource pools. 3) For organizations new to portfolio management and need to start with a simpler mechanism for prioritizing project work.

How Does a Priority Matrix Compare to a Scoring Model?

A priority matrix is simply a different approach to prioritizing work. It is not in conflict with a traditional scoring model (which we highly endorse as long you build your model correctly). In fact some companies may use both for selected use cases. The priority matrix is about categorical prioritization, prioritizing work based on the type of work request. A scoring model takes into account multiple dimensions for evaluating project work and is used to determine relative project value. Furthermore, when evaluating multiple large projects, a scoring system will provide a more accurate analysis over a prioritization matrix.

What are the strengths of a priority matrix?

• A prioritization matrix is easy to understand and simple to use. • Calculations are not required for determining the relative priority of a project. It is most useful for prioritizing high volumes of work requests quickly • Because of its simplicity, prioritization becomes a much faster exercise and allows decision makers to quickly distinguish important projects from less important projects. • Various kinds of work can be prioritized using a prioritization matrix. • With a traditional scoring model, it is difficult to evaluate “keep the lights on” type of work, but with a prioritization matrix it is easier to compare priorities for project and non-project work. • It can provide a categorical ranking of projects in the portfolio