How To Prioritize Innovative Projects As a Team
Here’s an all-too-familiar situation: your team has no shortage of good ideas and interesting projects, but you’re having a hard time prioritizing which projects to execute first. This evaluation method can help your team focus their efforts.
- Solicit ideas. A few days before the session, ask team members to submit projects that they have in the pipeline, or that they want to work on. Use email, Slack, or a survey tool to collect responses. Once you've collected 20-30 projects, print them out on individual cards and include a one-sentence description of the project.
- Prepare your workspace. About an hour before the session, secure a room with a large table, whiteboard, or plenty of floor space. Use dry erase markers or painter's tape to create two axes on a whiteboard, table, or even on the floor. Label the x-axis "easy" and "hard" and label the y-axis "high impact" and "low impact".
- Graph the projects. Gather your team and have them stand in a single-file line. Explain that, one by one, each team member will have two minutes to read the project cards and place them in the appropriate quadrant (high impact/easy, low impact/hard, etc.). As they're placing the card in each quadrant, they must explain their rationale aloud.
- Repeat and realign. Go through the line once, making sure everyone has had a turn, and repeat—it's okay if cards change quadrants completely.
- Question impact. Some teams will sort all their projects as "high impact", but with limited time and resources, not all projects can fit this criteria. If this happens to you, shift the cards down (but in the same position relative to the other cards) so that the majority are below the x-axis, now qualifying them as "low impact." This may change how your team feels about the importance of projects and require another round of sorting and consolidation to arrive at the most pressing ideas.
- Record the results. Once you’ve conducted two rounds, the scribe should capture the final placement of the ideas in the prioritization template.
- Take ownership. Focusing on the projects located in the high impact/easy quadrant, ask each of your team members to select one project to lead. (Each project should have at least one, but no more than two, owners.) Make sure project owners are recorded as well—while they aren't responsible for doing everything to make the project succeed, they are responsible for managing its progress.
- Follow up. Check in with each project owner two days, two weeks, and two months after the session to collect updates on progress, roadblocks, and changes in the timeline.
Takeaway: The act of physically moving cards around and explaining the reasoning behind it not only clarifies which projects demand the most attention, but also brings the team together as they hear the motivations and concerns of their colleagues.