Business Analysis Guidebook/Prioritization Techniques

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Success is only another form of failure if we forget what our priorities should be.” – Harry Lloyd

Prioritization and When to Use[edit]

Prioritization focuses on what is most important—whether it be project deliverables or an organization’s goals—prioritization helps to ranks the multiples into what matters most. We are all faced with the need for prioritization, whether it’s juggling a large number of tasks, the email flag noting a high priority or in a medical emergency room, where those with the greatest need are served first. The ability to prioritize can serve organizations and their staff well—when faced with multiple demands within a finite timeframe, a relative ranking of what is more important than something else can guide employees to work on the right things.

Typically, a good rule of thumb for prioritization is when you have more than three items, issues, requirements, projects or goals—discerning the relative importance of the items against one another offers value to those who must use them.

There are a number of different techniques that help organizations and teams rank the relative order of importance of like items, including:


  • Strategic Alignment
  • High-Medium-Low or Small-Medium-Large
  • Weighted/Criteria
  • Ranking
  • Matrix
  • Impact Analysis

Each of these are detailed below with examples in order to provide guidance in their completion.


Prioritization Techniques[edit]

While many different techniques are listed below—they are often paired together. For example, strategic alignment may be one criteria in a weighted matrix! Each are presented separately in recognition that they can be done individually.

Strategic Alignment[edit]

Strategic alignment refers to the linkage between what the organizations is trying to achieve, e.g. vision, goals, and values against a core set of deliverables, such as projects, priorities, or business processes. Alignment refers to comparing each of the deliverables against what the organization is trying to achieve to discern relative fit. If items are strongly aligned, then it is surmised that there is alignment. When items kind of fit or do not seem to match up—then one could surmise there is not an alignment. In most instances, these are a judgment call. Items which appear to offer real value in meeting the organizations vision, goals and values should receive a higher prioritization. Those deliverables that meet more than one strategic area should be rated even higher than those that link to a single element.

High-Medium-Low[edit]

In its simplest form, High-Medium-Low is subjective criteria that could be applied to a list of deliverables that use relative size as the criteria. While size is used most often when ranking items high-medium-low or small-medium-large, the same criteria can also be applied to complexity, duration, benefits and cost relatively easy.

Caution! When applying the use of small-medium-large or high-medium-low to multiple criteria—it is critical to ensure that when applied, all are referencing the same “desired” outcome. Merely assuming “high” is good in all categories may result in ambiguity in your results. For example, if we apply benefit and cost using high as a good outcome, we will tend to favor expensive outcomes (cost=high=good) over other options or alternatives. This caution will be detailed further later in this section. Use of high-medium-low as a simple prioritization technique is detailed below:

Options RISK Low-Good, Med-Depends, High-Bad COST Low-Good, Med-Depends, High-Bad TIME TO DO Low-Good, Med-Depends, High-Bad RANK
Option A High High High 3
Option B Med Med High 2
Option C Low Low Med 1


As noted in the above example, items ranked low are preferred over items ranked high.

Weighted Criteria[edit]

This form of prioritization recognizes that all criteria are not created equal. A weighted criteria approach allows the prioritizers to identify which criteria are more important and assign a higher value/weight to the criteria. An example of this form of prioritization can be found in the decision making section.

Weighted criteria is generally accepted as the best form of prioritization, however it does require additional steps and is viewed as taking too much time or as too complex in some organizations.

Ranking[edit]

This form of prioritization is seen as the most difficult to undertake when done alone. The more items to rank, the more difficult it is to classify. Given the subjective nature of the analysis, e.g. item “C” is more important than “A” and “E” is more important than “C”, etc., this is often best done in group settings with 2-3 people assigning the relative importance.

There are several techniques used to help facilitating rank ordering items, namely a clear focus as to why they are ranked as they are and using pre-sorting to ease completion. The clear focus technique identifies a single set of values by which to make the decision of what is most important. Often in business, the focus is a positive impact on the bottom line. Conversely, in government and non-profits will often look at what is best for citizens/clients. The higher likelihood of a beneficial outcome, the higher the item will be ranked.

Using a pre-sort technique suggests sorting items into different categories before ranking, such as looking at items from a high-medium and low perspective. The items with high benefits are put in the top category and those with lessor benefits are put in the bottom category. Once all items are initially sorted, ranking within the individual categories is an easier task. Once completed, it is best to revisit the entire list to ensure that it is ranked appropriately and that each rank number (1,2,3,4) is used only once.

Matrix[edit]

Matrices can come in various shapes and forms—with the most commonly done in squares or linear fashion. Square matrices typically have the criteria on the top and the alternatives being ranked in the left hand column as shown below:

Option Criteria A Criteria B Criteria C Rank
Option 1
Option 2
Option 3
Option 4


Another form of matrix is a linear one, often referred to as a quadrant, which uses a 2 dimensional Cartesian system and typically two criteria. While seemingly more complex, it offers a unique visual representation of alternatives that can facilitate decision making.

To illustrate this tool, the following example and resulting chart will evaluate which projects a particular organization should undertake.


INSERT PEARL/etc. file…send from work.

This type of matrix has many alternate uses. For example, Gartner, a major IT consulting firm uses a similar matrix to profile multiple vendors in a similar space and call them magic quadrants. Another application is called a customer window where you apply what a customer wants versus what they receive they are getting, as a form of gap analysis.

NOTE: Need to finish this section