Effectively Prioritizing and Managing Your Projects

To stay competitive, companies need to find ways to do things better, faster and cheaper. This is the basis for any continuous improvement program. Using resources wisely is critical. Companies should focus on the highest-priority initiatives that will yield the biggest return on time and effort.

Columns From: 9/20/2010 Modern Machine Shop,

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In order to realize the greatest returns, companies need to effectively prioritize and manage projects. There are many ways to set priorities, such as the “A B C” method, in which projects deemed most important are assigned an “A” priority, those with a slightly lower priority are assigned a “B” and the lowest-priority projects are assigned a “C”. Unfortunately, this can be a highly subjective approach. After all, what is the real difference between an “A” priority project and a “B” priority project, or even a “B” priority and a “C?”
 
The one-through-five (or even 10) method for assigning priorities also can be difficult to use, with even more levels from which to chose. How does someone decide if something is a priority “8” and not a “7” or a “9?”
 
A technique I have used bases the importance of any task on two factors: effort and impact. First, decide if the effort is easy or hard to accomplish. Second, figure out if the project is likely to have a high or low impact on the organization. In other words, what can the company gain as a result of a successful conclusion to the project? The table below shows how you can prioritize a project using this technique.
 

 

High Impact

Low Impact

Easy to do

1

2

Hard to do

3

4

 
The rationale for this technique is that you should do the easy things first (or as some like to say, “pick the low hanging fruit”). So, projects that are easy to do take priority over those that are hard to do. The expected impact is then used to refine the prioritization further. Something that is easy to do with a high impact is given the highest priority. Something that is easy to do with a low impact gets the second-highest priority. Anything that is hard to do but yields a high impact is given the third level of priority. Finally, projects that are hard to do and yield a low impact are given the lowest priority. Anything assigned a priority level of “4” will probably not be addressed in the near term. However, that project should remain on the list of things to do in case something changes that makes it either easier to do or increases its impact on the organization. 
 
Once the prioritization has been established, the project must be managed. I believe this must be done in a simple, yet visual way. Numerous commercial software programs are available to assist in managing any project. These vary in detail and sophistication. Most are based on the classic Gantt chart, in which tasks are listed, responsible persons are assigned and a time line is developed (see chart below).
 
 

 

 

2/1

2/8

2/15

2/22

3/1

3/8

Task 1

Mike, Mary

 

 

 

 

 

 

Task 2

Mike, Tom

 

 

 

 

 

 

Task 3

Joe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Task 4

Denise

 

 

 

 

 

 

Task 5

Mike, Jeff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
As tasks are completed, the boxes on the Gantt chart can be shaded in a different color, or simply tagged with a note to show completion. An alternative and somewhat less-detailed approach is listing what needs to be done, the priority assigned, who will do it, when it will be done and any notes or issues related to the task.
 

Activity

Priority
1-hi, 4-low

Person Responsible

Target Completion
 Date

Status/Comments

Task 1

1

Joe

3/1

 2/15-On target

Task 2

3

Kathy

8/1

 

Task 3

2

Steve

5/1

 

Task 4

1

Ron

4/1

 

 
Regardless of the method used to manage the project, it is important to update the status on a regular basis. Ideally, the updates should be completed by the person responsible for the task. This is preferred to one person taking responsibility for updating the entire project plan because it creates a sense of ownership for each task, and ownership is a key element for successful and timely completion of any task.
 
As companies strive to make the best use of resources and ensure critical improvement activities are completed on time, prioritizing and managing projects grows in importance. Whatever means you use to accomplish this, just the act of prioritizing and managing will increase your organization’s likelihood of success.

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