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How To Rank Projects: Avoid “They’re All Important!” Syndrome

Getting agreement on what projects to say yes to can be a difficult process—a process whose difficulty compounds as the number of stakeholders increases.

Ask a group to rate projects from least important to most important on a scale of 1-10 and most will be rated a 9 or a 10. Some people will get tricky and use 9.5 so they seem like they’re not rating everything a 10.

“But they’re all important,” comes the response.

Yet with limited resources, trade-offs need to be made. And if stakeholders won’t accurately say what’s important, the decision-maker has to choose for them, leaving people unhappy.

A good decision process can alleviate these problems. Follow these five tips to properly identify what truly matters when making a project choice or portfolio decision.

  1. Identify Needs First
    Don’t start evaluating what features, benefits or attributes you need. Ask what problems you’re solving and get your stakeholders to rank the importance of those first. Identify the most painful pain points before searching for solutions.
  2. Set Your Priorities Second
    Avoid researching or evaluating options until you have your needs clearly defined and prioritized. If initially you can’t determine what you want, try identifying what you want to avoid.
  3. Include Common Features
    The process of comparison often causes us to overweight the importance of differences. Remember to include the features common to all your options. Often these common features outweigh the differences in importance, making any choice a good choice. Recognizing this can reduce the time spent squabbling over insignificant differences.
  4. Use Relative, Not Absolute Scores
    Determining the value of a feature or project in isolation is difficult, especially when the decision involves trade-offs. Compare items against each other for the best results. Ask stakeholders to sort items from most to least importance; avoid asking for scores where multiple projects or features can all have the same score. Advanced users can use Paired Comparison or other techniques to identify each item’s importance.
  5. Use Phases, Then Rinse & Repeat
    Looking at options can surface unspoken needs. But once a need is identified, don’t immediately jump back to prioritizing. Take time to identify additional needs. Once you’ve exhausted this discovery phase, then re-prioritize. Jumping back and forth between phases wastes time and effort when using a comparative approach, since all items will need to be re-prioritized.

Use these tips to improve your decision process when evaluating multiple options with multiple stakeholders.

What techniques have you found for avoiding the “But It’s All Important” syndrome?

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