How to Improve Your Team’s Task Prioritization

How to Improve Your Team's Task Prioritization

A work study done in 2018 showed that more than 50 percent of professionals around the world are working remotely more than half of the week. The welcome response of companies to telecommuting as well as the emergence of shared workspaces, greater connectivity, and the rise of the gig economy changed the vision, values, and attitudes of corporate leaders. So, face-to-face interaction diminished and digital communication flourished. But spontaneous collaboration, team-building, project alignment, and task prioritization also became more difficult for teams.

Table of contents

Why task prioritization is important?

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Task prioritization is the conscious and willful decision to choose which comes first when all task seems equally urgent. It is the listing or distribution of tasks according to their immediate relevance for a particular stage in the project or work.The project manager breaks a project into smaller, more manageable tasks and assign them to individuals with the right skills. Each project team member tries to complete the task according to quality standards at the right sequence before the deadline.

Today’s digital and remote teams can get task assignments from multiple channels simultaneously. Without clear policies, project plans, or task prioritization, teams and individuals can do only the tasks they like to do. But since smaller tasks came from a larger project, there is a dependency and proper sequence of task completion. Otherwise, the project planned at the start will look entirely different at the end.

Ways you’re already prioritizing informally

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Project management methodology guides a team throughout the project lifecycle from beginning to end. Different methodologies allow teams to choose the best way for their own purpose and preferences. Teams can sometimes create custom or hybrid approaches depending on requirements, capabilities, and available resources. Some of the informal ways teams prioritize tasks are the following:

  • First-in, first-out – Teams work on tasks based on which task came in to the work queue or to-do list first. It is a simple system ideal for spontaneous, individual tasks in operation and maintenance activities. But this system does not consider the greater impact of the task to the overall system, process, or project.
  • By due date – Team members will work on the tasks with the nearest deadline, regardless if there are task requests that came in first. This system prevents missed deadlines but makes it difficult for team members to focus on any single task. A more urgent task at any time can take them off to what they are presently working on.
  • By availability – Teams will work on tasks when resources are available for those specific tasks. When a resource person, user, partner, or customer becomes available, team members will prioritize related tasks to take advantage of time and schedule opportunities. This system is flexible but has little control to its own schedules.

Read also: 5 Stages of Team Development: Tuckman’s Group Development

The benefits of setting a formal task prioritization process

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Task prioritization enables your team to align your overall strategy to your daily activities. You are able to make adjustments in your day-to-day activities without worrying that you may be getting off-track from your bigger goal. A formal prioritization process eliminates confusion, and your team can work immediately as soon as they identify or receive the right tasks to work on. By having an agreed-upon process for prioritizing tasks, your team can be more productive and complete work faster. They can create quality work consistently. When they know what to work on, they can organize and manage workloads efficiently. All these results in reduced waste of time and resources. Also, they can meet deadlines and avoid project delays.

Example task prioritization processes and strategies

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Here are three methods that teams can choose from for their task prioritization. This is not an exhaustive list, and you can customize and combine depending on your needs and preferences.

Eisenhower matrix

The Eisenhower matrix is a prioritization method that classifies tasks into four types:

  1. Important and urgent tasks – Teams should work on them as soon as possible.
  2. Important but not urgent tasks – Working on them next can lessen additional urgent tasks.
  3. Urgent but not important tasks – Some can be distractions and needs careful assessment.
  4. Non-important and non-urgent tasks – Teams put the lowest priority on these tasks, but they shouldn’t neglect them, as they can become urgent after some time.

Point system with WIP

This strategy works well with the Kanban system. Teams create a task list under the backlog column and assign a number, indicating its importance. Depending on whether the lowest or the highest number is the most important, the team agrees on the maximum number of tasks that they can work on at any stage, called the work-in-progress (WIP) limit. This will help the team focus on the most important tasks, make sure work is flowing to ensure progress, and also avoid work overload.

Value and effort matrix

Similar to the Eisenhower method, it categorizes tasks based on four groups depending on the amount of the value it will contribute and the amount of effort it requires to complete. Teams can also combine this method with the 4D/GTD strategy.

  1. Quick wins – These tasks have high value and requires little effort.
  2. Big bets – Teams should work next on these tasks that provide great value to the project, product, or business goal but requires significant amount of effort. Therefore, teams need to make plans for these tasks or include them on existing ones.
  3. Maybes – These are tasks that do not have much value but are also easy to complete.
  4. Time sinks – These are tasks that do not have much value and can require effort.

Using the 4D/GTD strategy, teams can further qualify these tasks. If they are actionable and teams can complete them in 2 minutes or less, they can do these tasks. If they are not actionable, then they are not tasks. If teams cannot complete them under 2 minutes, can they delegate it to another team? If yes, then delegate the tasks. If not, can they defer doing it? If yes, then defer it, but if not, just delete them from the task priority list.

Jose Maria Delos Santos

Jose Maria Delos Santos

Jose is a subject matter expert and member of the writing team for Project-Management.com and Bridge24. He has written hundreds of articles including project management software reviews, books reviews, training site reviews, and general articles related to the project management industry.

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