How To Prioritise Quickly And Intuitively

How To Prioritise Quickly And IntuitivelyIf you’re in a situation where prioritisation is straightforward and you have a single decisive product owner, you probably need to read no further.

If, however, prioritisation is difficult in your situation – maybe because you have several products or product owners with conflicting priorities, or maybe because your requirements can be complex and benefits rather intangible – this is for you.

In this case, prioritisation can be difficult and priorities are not always immediately obvious.

This simple approach might help you to prioritise more quickly and intuitively…

Draw a 2 x 2 grid. Use the bottom axis as ‘Difficulty’. Make the vertical axis ‘Importance’.

‘Difficulty’ should represent all the negative aspects, such as time, cost, effort, risk, complexity, etc.

Prioritisation Matrix

The ‘Importance’ axis should represent all the positive aspects, such as revenue, cost-savings, and (slightly counter-intuitively) the risk of not doing it.

Make the left corner of each axis ‘Low’ and the top and right of the axes ‘High’. What’s in between doesn’t really matter. ‘Difficulty’ could be your complexity points if your using Fibonacci estimating or something similar. But it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is simply one item’s difficulty and importance relative to anothers.

Plot each of your items on the grid, making an intuitive judgement about whether it’s harder or easier, more or less important, than the other items already plotted. Make sure they’re plotted roughly in the right position, relative to each other.

Get the relevant product owners to decide on the vertical position. Get the technical team to decide on the horizontal position. This is best done in a workshop with all the relevant people together. It’s also important that only those qualified to judge should influence the horizontal position!

It’s a good idea to start with the things that are clearly the easiest, hardest, most and least important. Place these in the corners of the grid to provide a useful context for other, less obvious items.

Once you’ve got all your things on the grid, think about the four quadrants. Things in the top left are “No-Brainers”. These things are clear priorities. Things in the bottom right are potentially for the bin, as these things are of the least value.

Things in the bottom left are quite straightforward to deliver but not the most important. Consider ways to make them more valuable, i.e. push them up on the grid. Could they be chargeable features (if appropriate)? Or if enhanced slightly would they be considered much more important? Of course you shouldn’t do this artificially; it’s counter-productive.

Typically things in the top right quadrant are more strategic developments. Although they’re over to the right, if you never start them you’ll certainly never deliver them. Consider ways to simplify these items. Consider breaking them up into multiple things, so bits can move left on the grid and the strategic changes delivered over time.

This might sound like a simplistic approach, but you might be surprised how many things you’re already working on that are not in the top left of the grid. And how many things you might not be working on, that are.


See also:
How to prioritise (Part II)

7 Responses to “How To Prioritise Quickly And Intuitively”

  1. David Churchville says:

    Interesting post, Kelly.

    I think being able to visualize priority in 2 dimensions is actually a pretty compelling approach.

    How do you see this working for situations where multiple customers have conflicting priorities? Where would you plot the importance?

    I’ve blogged about prioritization for multiple customers a while back here:

  2. Steve says:

    This is similar in many respects to Steven Covey’s diagram in “7 Habits.” I’ve often thought that someone could make a really effective to-do program using this matrix, but it won’t be me, since I don’t code.

  3. Andrew B says:

    Great idea. I like the picture of the biker and the train. That guy really does have to think of priorities!

  4. bashar says:

    I like the diagram. Really true. Without visualizing it in such easy and nice way, I have many ideas that come to my mind, due to mu lack of time I started knocking many of them and go to what’s called Quick Wins. No risk, no long time, decent income.

    I should be moving to the right slowly though.

  5. Ken Barker says:

    I’ve used a prioritization technique that is a bit similar – however instead of the quadrants being setup around dropping somthing, no-brainer, etc. I use things like 1) Reduces risk, 2) benefits user, 3) Enhances revenue and finally 4) externally required (for things like legal, etc.)

    Particularly if I am working with client reps – they take to these really well.

    Something goes into the no-brainer pile for us when it hits on three or more of these quadrants, and needs more scrutiny if it only hits one or two.

  6. Michele says:

    It remembers the BCG matrix

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’ve created an Excel spreadsheet featuring this chart and the posting text. Is there an e-mail that I can send it to so others can use it if they’d like?

Leave a Reply

What is 6 + 10 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
Please do this simple sum so I know you are human:)

There are 101 ways to approach anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”


“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”


“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”


“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”


“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”


“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”


“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”


“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”


“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”


“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”


“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”