8 min read
Mar 24, 2020
IT Project Management

How to Prioritize IT Projects

Have a process to prioritize your IT projects and a good software solution to complement it. Choose high-value projects and optimize your resources to get maximum ROI and customer satisfaction.

Ankita SinghContent Analyst

An IT organization needs impactful projects to keep business growing. But it can’t have all its projects on the floor at one time. Certain projects must be prioritized over others.

For this reason, an organization must have a structured and objective vetting process. This should involve evaluation of each project based on its expected return on investment (ROI) and alignment with business strategy, customer needs, and resource availability. 

It might seem complicated to have a prioritization process for your IT projects—especially if you are a small and midsize business—but it isn’t impossible.This article can help organizations of all sizes understand the available approaches to prioritize IT projects, best practices, and more.

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Steps to prioritize IT projects effectively

Effective prioritization of IT projects entails a balanced, transparent, and unbiased approach to allocating funds and resources to the right projects—i.e., high-value projects or projects with more ROI at a particular time (full report available to Gartner clients).

Here are two steps that we think are relevant to most organizations prioritizing IT projects:

Step 1: Define a common point of entry for IT project intake

Having a common point of entry for IT projects helps create visibility into the number of incoming projects and resource availability (people and money) for handling those projects. Here is what you need to do:

Get the concept proposal in place: The concept proposal is a short, one-to-two page document with high-level explanations of how a project aligns with stated strategic initiative, has a direct payback, contributes to innovation, and offers value to customers and the business.

Develop a business case once the idea is cleared: Once the concept proposal goes to the next level, a business case should be created. The business case needs to provide more detailed information such as the number of people and resources needed for the project.

Step 2: Determine and allot investments for your projects

Several strong business cases can get approved but not all of them can be turned into projects. So, perform an investment prioritization:

Identify the different types of proposals received: Project proposals that make it to this stage can be categorized into different segments, such as ones that may boost growth and ROI or productivity. Some may be experimental in nature but shouldn’t be discounted—they can often be game changers. Every business will have its unique categories, but it is important that the categories are simple, focused, and don’t change too often.

Determine which category of projects receive what percentage of investment: The percentage of investment allocated to a category may change as business needs evolve. Some projects might need to be put on hold or be deferred to accommodate more relevant ones.

To make sure that the right projects go through the review cycle, follow our scoring and ranking approaches outlined below. 

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Approaches to prioritizing IT projects

There are several approaches to prioritizing IT projects objectively, but we will discuss the two simplest ways:

The ranking approach

This approach is used to rank comparable projects based on one or two predefined criteria, which may include:

  • Expected ROI of the project

  • Expected customer satisfaction level compared with the investment

  • Strategic contribution of the project toward the organization

The scoring approach

This approach is used when projects are not comparable and need to be evaluated based on their strategic and economic importance.

Some example criteria on which such projects can be scored include:

  • The payback period of a project

  • Expected sales from the project

  • Investment required for the project (time, cost, and human resources)

  • Dependency of other projects on this project

  • Impact of the project on employee satisfaction and employee retention

Projects can be scored on a scale of 0-10 or 0-100. 

The steps and approaches to prioritizing IT projects might seem like a lot of work but the good news is that the processes can be automated and made easier using certain software tools.

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Software tools to support prioritizing projects 

If you are already using a project management tool or are planning to invest in one, rest assured that it can be used for project prioritization as well. 

Here are a few ways you can use your project management tool to prioritize IT projects (and then manage the selected projects during their implementation):

  • Simplify administration: Project management tools such as Asana allow you to set a step-by-step review process to prioritize projects. You can create tasks and subtasks and assign them to concerned stakeholders along with deadlines to receive their timely inputs about project scores, importance, investment allotment, etc.

  • Capture and share information about the projects: You can capture basic information about projects such as proposals and client requirements in one place. Some tools such as Cacoo let users create mind maps, mockups, flowcharts, etc. to present ideas and proposals. Aha! allows users to create mockups to define quarterly goals, initiatives, and financial projections to achieve those goals.

  • Stay updated about resource availability: All project management tools allow users to gain complete visibility into the progress of ongoing projects. They can review and realign resources to prioritize more pressing requirements. 

  • Rank projects in order of priority: Tools such as Trello allow ranking and tagging projects in order of prioritization. This helps highlight priority levels to every stakeholder so they know the order of things that need attention.

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Some final thoughts to help you prioritize IT projects

We hope the information in the article will help you in the prioritization process for your IT projects. However, if you are still wondering precisely where and how to begin, here are a few things you can do:

  • Identify a core group of managers and leaders who set, review, and confirm prioritization processes for your IT projects. This will eliminate confusion and the chances of bias in decisions and help you get consensus from all stakeholders.

  • Ensure that all team members (in addition to decision makers) understand your overall business strategy and objective. There should be a consensus on (or at least visibility into) why a particular project has been prioritized over another. This will help them feel more engaged and recognize their contribution toward the overall business outcome.

  • During the prioritization process, there could be some projects that take precedence over others. A transparent log reflecting prioritization decisions will help in charting out the roadmap to relook at deprioritized projects. 

  • Stay flexible when it comes to prioritization. You should be able to discuss and re-evaluate the process to take into account changing customer needs, market fluctuations, or business requirements.


Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations, obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.

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