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How to prioritize tasks when everything is important?

During a normal day at work (or from home), you’ve got calls to answer, emails to reply to and meetings or virtual meetings to attend. All of this, while some ‘’less’’ important tasks may pile up. And deciding what deserves your attention can quickly become overwhelming. By implementing prioritization strategies, you will surely change the course of your workday and make the most of your time in the office. Today you will learn about two methods to help you manage the prioritization of tasks.

First off, keep in mind that tasks will often be prioritized according to the needs of others or the immediacy of deadlines. 

And that according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to prioritize means to organize things so that the most important thing is done or dealt with first. Sometimes this involves ranking tasks according to different factors including but not limited to criticalness, whether or not it is time sensitive, and how long it takes to complete each one. 

So today, you will learn about categorizing tasks and about the MoSCoW method.

What is prioritizing?

Prioritizing tasks effectively according to future goals will help you ensure that every task, you tackle drive value and won’t keep unimportant tasks from cluttering your to-do list. Always keep in mind the progress of your project.

And to help you prioritize each task, you can ask yourself these two goal-oriented questions: What tasks will have the biggest impact on the end result? What can I get done to accentuate my progress toward my goals? 

The main goal of prioritizing is to be sure that you are working on what is really important and that you won’t waste time and possibly money with minor tasks that can easily be postponed.

Example: You must develop a new account management application for a bank, and everyone agrees that the user identification system is very important for the final product. You will then have to prioritize the user identification access development as a priority, as this task will have a domino effect on the rest of the work.

Define clear objectives

To define clear objectives for your projects, you need to be able to assign a precise description to each task. You also must assign a degree of complexity and a list of prerequisites and dependencies to your tasks. By taking a task individually, it should be possible to know exactly what it consists of and what it will bring to the project.

You also need to be able to determine a straight path that will be a guideline to the overall realization of the project. It is important to have an overall objective and to be able to clearly define the target of each of the referenced tasks.

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Evaluate the needed resources 

Perfect knowledge of the resources allocated to the project is necessary, both in terms of:

– Budget
– Time
– Human-resources

Each task must be confirmed in order to know what resources will be required for your projects. By evaluating the resources needed, you will avoid surprises and unforeseen events. Necessary resources could also evolve during the project depending on the complexity of the tasks to be carried out and their possible parallelization.

Always remember that time is not extendable, and if an achievement is delayed and other tasks depend on it, the entire project schedule may be delayed. 

1- Prioritize tasks by categorizing them

It is possible to categorize the tasks by defining a certain number of criteria and assigning them scores from 1 to 5, for example. It will then be possible by adding the scores assigned to the various criteria to obtain an overall score for each task, and thus rank them in order of priority.

Down here, you will find six criteria that will help you prioritize your tasks by categorizing them.

Criticality

Is the task critical to the completion of the project and what will happen if it can’t be done? A low rating will be given to a task that has less impact on the final results of your projects, while the highest rating will be given if the project cannot be finalized if that task is not completed completely.

Example: If we resume with our banking application example, we will be able to give a grade of 1 to a task consisting of perfectly aligning the new layout with the provided template. However, the task of recording a bank transaction securely will receive a rating of 5, because it is the core of the new app.

Immediate Realization

Is the task achievable immediately or do you need prerequisites? The so-called unitary tasks, having few dependencies, have a higher score. If a task requires several actions to be completed before its completion begins, it will not be given priority and therefore receive a lower grade.

Expected Results

Will the completion of this task allow the project to really move forward? If this is a prerequisite for several other tasks? It will, of course, be rated higher if it is an isolated feature.

Example: The user display function, although important, will not add much to the project, and may have a score of 1. On the other hand, the database access module, which will then be used by all the developers, will have a score of 5, because its impact is particularly important on the progress of the project.

Risk

Risk represents the possibility of a given task having negative impacts on the project if it is performed poorly. If it takes a lot of time, money and human resources to complete, the score will be higher than if it costs nothing. 

Example: The realization of an account consultation screen will have a low score, as it normally requires few resources. On the other hand, developing secure exchanges between multiple systems will require more people, and will have much more impact on the project. This task will therefore have a higher score. 

Impact 

The impact makes it possible to determine what effects the completion or non-completion of a task will have in order to achieve the main objective.

Example: In our example, writing user documentation, while important and mandatory, will have absolutely no impact on the performance of the application, and will have a low score. It can be done after the application is finalized, or simultaneously, by people outside the development team.

Task Knowledge

The last criterion on our list is knowledge of the task. If the objective of the task is perfectly clear and understandable, the score will be higher than if it is still unclear and needs clarification.

When all the tasks have received a score for each of the criteria, simply add up for each task to obtain an overall score. Prioritization of tasks can then be done based on these results. Tasks with a high score should be completed as a priority over those with a lower score.

2- Prioritize actions using the MoSCoW method

The MoSCoW method is a prioritization technique used in management, business analysis, project management, and software development to reach a common understanding with stakeholders on the importance they place on the delivery of each requirement; it is also known as MoSCoW prioritization or MoSCoW analysis. 

Unlike classic methods of tasks prioritizing, the MoSCoW method does not apply to the entire project, but to every action. The prioritization of actions is therefore redefined at each new iteration. 

The term MoSCoW itself is an acronym derived from the first letter of each of four prioritization categories:

M (Must have): Tasks labelled as Must have are critical to the current delivery timeframe, in order for it to be a success. If even one Must have the task is not included, the project delivery should be considered a failure. MUST can also be considered an acronym for the Minimum Usable Subset.

S (Should have): Tasks labelled as Should have are important but not necessarily for the delivery in the timeframe. While Should have tasks can be as important as Must have, they are often not as time critical. Project success does not rely on Should have tasks.

C (Could have): Tasks labelled as Could have are desirable but not necessary and will typically be included if time and resources permit.

W (Won’t have but would like): Tasks labelled as Won’t have, have been agreed by stakeholders as the least critical, or not appropriate at that time. Won’t have tasks are either dropped or reconsidered for inclusion in a later timebox. 

Your project team should aim to deliver as many of the Should requirements as possible. Could and would requirements are nice to have and do not affect the overall success of the project. Could requirements are the first to go if the project timeline or budget comes under pressure.

In conclusion, the prioritization of tasks is what will allow a project to determine the best path to follow, its budget and the human resources involved. It is imperative to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent, in order to prioritize what is really important and to have a strong impact on the progress of the project.

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2021-06-03T09:33:38+00:00

About the Author:

Marc has been part of the Nutcache team since day one. As the marketing specialist, Marc does his best to develop the Nutcache brand and make it shine by sharing the Nutcache love to all business owners out there. =)