A project priority matrix – also known as a prioritization matrix – can help you to work out and negotiate priorities for a project. It can also be used to prioritize projects themselves, although opinions are mixed on whether this usage is a good idea.

When to Use a Project Priority Matrix

Use a project priority matrix when you need to decide:

  • Which feature your team should start next.
  • How to delegate tasks.
  • A priority order for bug/issue fixes.
  • Which area of a large project requires the most attention.
  • How to structure your day.

Time/Performance/Cost Project Priority Matrix

A super simple version of a priority matrix maps three basic, competing priorities in any project:

  • Time: how long the project will run.
  • Performance (or scope): how many features, or the level of quality, in the project.
  • Cost: how much the project will cost the company; or how much the end product will cost the consumer.
TimePerformanceCost
ConstrainX
EnhanceX
AcceptX
Table: Simple example of a project priority matrix

These three priorities interact and compete in any project. Typically, you’ll get a better level of performance if you allow more time for the project. More money will also often allow better performance. But it’s rarely useful to just throw time and money at a project. For a start, at some point you’ll hit diminishing returns: extra money or time only slightly improving quality. Also, a high-quality product might result, but behind competitor products or at a cost that most of the target market don’t want to pay, leading to poor sales.

This matrix maps time, performance, and cost against three actions:

  • Constrain: Actively work to decrease this factor.
  • Accept: Let this factor be as large as necessary.
  • Enhance: Actively work to increase this factor.

How to create a time/performance/cost matrix

This is a very simple tool, but it requires good information to get good results. You should create this matrix before you start to develop a roadmap for the project.

  1. Gather your project’s stakeholders.
  2. Explain the concepts involved.
  3. Talk about what you all want the project to achieve.
  4. Come to a consensus on which factors to constrain, accept, and enhance.
  5. Draw up the matrix.
  6. Base your roadmap development on this matrix.

Impact/Urgency Mapping

You can use this type of matrix to map how much effect a task or feature will have against its time-sensitivity. These two aspects of ‘important’ often get conflated, so deliberately separating them can be very beneficial to a project.

High urgencyLow urgency
High impactDO
Update project progress chart
SCHEDULE
Organize weekly meetings
Low impactDELEGATE
Answer emails from CTO
DELETE
Tasks not relating to project or position
Table: Example impact/urgency style project priority matrix

This type of project priority matrix has two arms:

  • Impact: how key this task or feature will be to the project as a whole.
  • Urgency: how soon it needs to be done.

For example, let’s look at two common tasks on a project manager’s plate: charting project progress and answering emails from the CTO.

The project progress chart is high-impact. If you don’t track the project, you don’t know when parts of it are running overtime, which could affect the success of the entire project. However, it might not matter if you complete this task today or tomorrow.

Answering emails from the CTO is not typically high-impact. It’s unlikely to affect the project much, especially if the project isn’t even the topic of conversation. However, the task is time-sensitive: the CTO expects an answer within a few hours, not a few days.

In a basic impact/urgency matrix, you end up with four categories:

  • Do: High impact, high urgency.
  • Schedule: High impact, low urgency.
  • Delegate: Low impact, high urgency.
  • Delete: Low impact, low urgency.

How to create an impact/urgency project priority matrix

To create your own impact/urgency project priority matrix:

  1. List your tasks or features.
  2. Next to tasks that need to be completed urgently, add a U.
  3. Next to tasks that will have a big effect on your project, add an I.
  4. Draw up a blank matrix, like the one shown below.
High urgencyLow urgency
High impactDO
SCHEDULE
Low impactDELEGATE
DELETE
Table: Blank impact/urgency style project priority matrix
  1. In the DO square, add tasks that have both a U and an I next to them.
  2. Add tasks that only have an I next to them to the SCHEDULE square.
  3. In the DELEGATE square, add tasks that have only a U next to them.
  4. Add tasks that have neither to the DELETE square.
Video: Priority Matrix – Prioritize your activities –
Petar Ninovski

Impact/Effort Mapping

This type of project priority matrix is similar to the previous one, except urgency is switched out with effort. This can help a team to pick the low-hanging fruit first – a useful strategy for new teams, or ones that are in need of a morale boost.

High effortLow effort
High impactMAJOR TASKS
Develop prototype
QUICK WINS
Create social media teaser
Low impactTHANKLESS
Intra-team update bulletins
FILL-INS
Minor bug fixes
Table: Example impact/effort style project priority matrix

An impact/effort matrix has two arms:

  • Impact: how key this task or feature will be to the project as a whole.
  • Effort: how much work the task or feature will require.

For example, let’s look at two common tasks in creating a new product.

Creating social media teaser posts about the new product might only require two or three days of work for a month’s worth of posts (low effort). However, done well, those posts might raise a swell of interest in the target market (high impact).

Putting together a prototype of the new product is essential, because the company needs to check viability and also have something to display at trade shows (high impact). However, putting together that prototype will take months of solid work (high effort).

In a basic impact/effort matrix, you end up with four categories:

  • Major tasks: High impact, high effort.
  • Quick wins: High impact, low effort.
  • Thankless: Low impact, high effort.
  • Fill-ins: Low impact, low effort.

How to create an impact/effort priority matrix

To create your own impact/effort project priority matrix:

  1. List your tasks or features.
  2. Next to tasks that will take a lot of work, add an E.
  3. Next to tasks that will have a big impact on your project, add an I.
  4. Draw up a blank matrix, like the one shown below.
High effortLow effort
High impactMAJOR TASKS
QUICK WINS
Low impactTHANKLESS
FILL-INS
Table: Blank impact/effort style project priority matrix
  1. In the MAJOR TASKS square, add tasks that have both an E and an I next to them.
  2. Add tasks that only have an I next to them to the QUICK WINS square.
  3. In the THANKLESS square, add tasks that have only a E next to them.
  4. Add tasks that have neither to the FILL-INS square.
Video: Focus on Impact vs Difficulty to Prioritize Projects – Andy Ray

Weighted and Scored Priority Matrix

In this style of project priority matrix, you use criteria and weightings to come up with scores for each competing feature, task, or project.

ContendersCriteria
StandardsStrategic goalsCustomer valueMarketInternal goalsTotal
First contender304040108128
Second contender5020301010120
Third contender3050402516161

How to create a weighted and scored matrix

To create a scored and weighted priority matrix, follow the steps below. We’ve added cumulative examples for each step, so that you can see the matrix being formed.

List your criteria for the tasks

These should be general factors that will apply to all of the tasks, features, or projects under consideration.

Criteria
Mandated by government standards
Aligns with company’s strategic goals
Brings value to customers
Fills an existing void in the market
Meets internal team goals
Table: Example criteria for a weighted scored priority matrix

Decide a rating scale for each of the criteria

To make life easier, use the same number range for each. You don’t have to – but if you don’t, you’ll need to modify your weightings accordingly.

CriteriaRating Scale (0-5)
Meeting mandatory or voluntary government standards0: No applicable standards
5: Meets mandatory standards (product won’t be saleable unless it meets them)
Aligns with company’s strategic goals0: Has no relation to existing strategic goals
2-3: Meets some of the strategic goals
5: Meets the most important strategic goals
Brings value to customers0: Doesn’t add value for any customers
2-3: Adds some value for some customers
5: Adds substantial value for most or all customers
Fills an existing void in the market0: Replicates products already available
2-3: Offers slightly different functionality, or approaches the offering in a different way
5: Completely different to other products
Meets internal team goals0: Doesn’t help advance team goals
2-3: Helps advance team goals indirectly
5: Advances key team goals
Table: Example rating scale for a weighted scored priority matrix

Set a weighting for each criteria

In any project, certain criteria will be more important than others. For example, in a project aimed at improving internal processes, you won’t be particularly interested in whether your improvements fill a void in the market. Or, when creating a new product, you typically won’t care much about individual team goals.

Your weighting needs to be a numerical value. The higher the weighting, the more important this criteria is to the project. Don’t include zero in weightings. This can mess up your calculations.

CriteriaRating Scale (0-5)Weighting (1-10)
Meeting mandatory or voluntary government standards0: No applicable standards
5: Meets mandatory standards (product won’t be saleable unless it meets them)
10
Aligns with company’s strategic goals0: Has no relation to existing strategic goals
2-3: Meets some of the strategic goals
5: Meets the most important strategic goals
10
Brings value to customers0: Doesn’t add value for any customers
2-3: Adds some value for some customers
5: Adds substantial value for most or all customers
8
Fills an existing void in the market0: Replicates products already available
2-3: Offers slightly different functionality, or approaches the offering in a different way
5: Completely different to other products
5
Meets internal team goals0: Doesn’t help advance team goals
2-3: Helps advance team goals indirectly
5: Advances key team goals
4
Table: Example weightings for a weighted scored priority matrix

Score each of the criteria

It’s best to split up for this part, because typically each stakeholder will have a different – and often valuable! – perspective. Group people into similar interest areas. For example, in a software project, you might create discrete groups of developers, project owners, marketing people, sales people, and user advocates.

CriteriaRating Scale (0-5)Weighting (1-10)Rating
Meeting mandatory or voluntary government standards0: No applicable standards
5: Meets mandatory standards (product won’t be saleable unless it meets them)
103
Aligns with company’s strategic goals0: Has no relation to existing strategic goals
2-3: Meets some of the strategic goals
5: Meets the most important strategic goals
104
Brings value to customers0: Doesn’t add value for any customers
2-3: Adds some value for some customers
5: Adds substantial value for most or all customers
85
Fills an existing void in the market0: Replicates products already available
2-3: Offers slightly different functionality, or approaches the offering in a different way
5: Completely different to other products
52
Meets internal team goals0: Doesn’t help advance team goals
2-3: Helps advance team goals indirectly
5: Advances key team goals
42
Table: Example ratings for a weighted scored priority matrix

Calculate the score for each contender

Your ‘contenders’ are the features, tasks, or projects that you’re trying to prioritize.

CriteriaRating Scale (0-5)Weighting (1-10)RatingScore
Meeting mandatory or voluntary government standards0: No applicable standards
5: Meets mandatory standards (product won’t be saleable unless it meets them)
10330
Aligns with company’s strategic goals0: Has no relation to existing strategic goals
2-3: Meets some of the strategic goals
5: Meets the most important strategic goals
10440
Brings value to customers0: Doesn’t add value for any customers
2-3: Adds some value for some customers
5: Adds substantial value for most or all customers
8540
Fills an existing void in the market0: Replicates products already available
2-3: Offers slightly different functionality, or approaches the offering in a different way
5: Completely different to other products
5210
Meets internal team goals0: Doesn’t help advance team goals
2-3: Helps advance team goals indirectly
5: Advances key team goals
428
Total128
Table: Example end score for a weighted scored priority matrix

Discuss scores for each contender

This is a very subjective step. Pull all of your groups back together, and talk about the scores you gave each contender. You’ll find that there’s almost always disagreement between the various stakeholders. What’s more, that very disagreement will often dig up important information.

List agreed-upon scores in each criteria for all contenders.

Construct the priority matrix

  1. List your contenders down the side of your matrix, then add your criteria across the top.
ContendersCriteria
StandardsStrategic goalsCustomer valueMarketInternal goalsTotal
First contender
Second contender
Third contender
  1. Add the agreed-upon weighted scores.
ContendersCriteria
StandardsStrategic goalsCustomer valueMarketInternal goalsTotal
First contender304040108128
Second contender5020301010120
Third contender3050402516161

You can see in the example matrix above that the last option is a pretty clear winner. It hits a lot of strategic goals, meets some industry standards, adds value to the customer, AND fills a void in the current market. Those are all clear advantages.

Video: The Weighted Scoring Decision Matrix – AirFocus

Combination ID/Matrix Method

This matrix kicks things up a notch in terms of complexity. It combines the matrix concept from the previous methods with an interrelationship diagram (or digraph).

To create one for a project, we first break down the project into detailed components. Then we add those components to both arms of a matrix. The idea is to look at the effects of each component on each of the others.

We use three degrees of influence, with the following symbols:

  • : Strong
  • : Medium
  • : Weak

We also specify the direction of the effect:

  • : the row component affects or causes the column component.
  • : the column component affects or causes the row component.
Image: Example combination ID/matrix

Note: To get those degrees of influence symbols on a web page, you’ll need the following HTML character codes:

  • Strong (one circle inside another): #11095;
  • Medium (empty circle): #11096;
  • Weak (triangle): #9651;

How to create a combination ID/matrix

Creating a combination interrelationship diagram/matrix is a multi-step process, using three different tools.

Tree diagram

  1. Start with a tree diagram. Break your project down into its component parts. You’ll want at least five.

Interrelationship diagram

  1. Take the output from the right of your tree diagram – the smallest components. Feed this into an interrelationship diagram. Chart any causal connections between your project components. Ensure that you include the direction of the influence with arrows.
  2. Still on the interrelationship diagram, mark the strength of each connection. Use these standard symbols:
    • ⭗: Strong
    • ⭘: Medium
    • △: Weak

Set up your matrix

  1. Now start your combination ID/matrix. These are simplest to create in Excel or a similar spreadsheet program.
  2. List your project components down the side of the spreadsheet.
  3. List your project components again across the top of the spreadsheet.
  4. Add columns at the end for:
    • Out arrows
    • In arrows
    • Total arrows
    • Strength.
  5. Block out the cells where the row and column components are the same (no point looking at a component’s relationship to itself).
  6. Transfer the information from your interrelationship diagram into the spreadsheet.
    • Up arrows indicate that the row component affects or causes the column component. These are your out arrows.
    • Left arrows indicate that the column component affects or causes the row component. These are your in arrows.
      Note: this assumes left-to-right text. If you’re using a language that uses right-to-left text, you’ll have your project components down the right side, and use right arrows instead.

Make your calculations

For each component row:

  1. Count the number of up arrows in the row, and put this number in the Out arrows cell. This is the number of components affected by this one.
  2. Count the number of left arrows in the row, and put this number in the In arrows cell. This is the number of components that this component is affected by.
  3. Add the numbers from the Out arrows and In arrows cells. This shows you the number of relationships the component has.
  4. This step is a little trickier. Count the number of:
    1. ⭗ symbols in the row, and multiply by 9.
    2. ⭘ symbols in the row, and multiply by 3.
    3. △ symbols in the row.
  5. Add the numbers from the previous step together, and put the result in the Strength cell.

Analysis

Once you have finished the matrix, you can rank your project components by strength. This is effectively a prioritized list, with the biggest priorities at the top and the lowest priorities at the bottom.

The top components are the ones that will have the greatest causal effect on other components. Practically speaking, this means that you should typically first work on the components at the top of your list.

Consensus Criteria Method

The consensus criteria method works similarly to the weighted and scored matrix. However, it relies heavily on a team coming to agreement on the relative importance of various option/criteria combinations.

If you’re finding that your team is disagreeing vehemently on these rather subjective points, you might be better off using the full analytical criteria method and the weighted and scored matrix.

How to use the consensus criteria method

You’ll be using more than one matrix throughout this process. You’ll need these matrices:

  • Criteria weighting matrix, to come up with weightings for each of your criteria.
  • Option scoring matrix, to give a priority score to each option for each criteria.
  • Summary matrix, to present your results.

Criteria weighting matrix

Your first step is to weight the criteria you’ll be using to score the project options.

  1. Draw up a table with the criteria down the side and team member names or initials across the top.
AKHBLSUCWSQLTotal
Meets industry standards
Furthers strategic goals
Brings value to customers
Fills a market void
Furthers internal team goals
Table: Blank criteria weighting matrix
  1. Each person has 1.0 points that they can distribute across as many criteria as they want. Stress that this is for the specific project you’re currently focusing on.
    The higher the point value, the higher the priority they place on that criterion.
  2. Ask each team member for their weightings.
AKHBLSUCWSQLTotal
Meets industry standards0.50.60.40.90.50.8
Furthers strategic goals0.50.20.30.20.1
Brings value to customers0.20.20.10.3
Fills a market void0.1
Furthers internal team goals0.1
Table: Example criteria weighting matrix with team member scores
  1. Add up each row in the Total column.
AKHBLSUCWSQLTotal
Meets industry standards0.50.60.40.90.50.83.7
Furthers strategic goals0.50.20.30.20.11.3
Brings value to customers0.20.20.10.30.8
Fills a market void0.10.1
Furthers internal team goals0.10.1
Table: Example criteria weighting matrix with total weightings

Option scoring matrix

Your next step is to score all options for each criterion. You’ll need one matrix per criterion.

  1. Pick your first criteria.
  2. Construct a matrix with your options down the side and team members across the top.
Meets industry standards
AKHBLSUCWSQLTotalWeighted
Improve performance testing metrics
Add online booking feature
Add chatbot feature
  1. Ask team members to write down their own scores out of 10 for each option.
  2. Add these scores to the matrix.
Meets industry standards
AKHBLSUCWSQLTotalWeighted
Improve performance testing metrics543421
Add online booking feature101010
Add chatbot feature001001
  1. Add up the scores for each row.
Meets industry standards
AKHBLSUCWSQLTotalWeighted
Improve performance testing metrics54342119
Add online booking feature1010103
Add chatbot feature0010012
  1. To get your weighted scores, multiply your total by the total weighting for that criterion from the previous matrix. In this case, the ‘Meets industry standards’ criterion had a weighting of 3.7.
Meets industry standards
AKHBLSUCWSQLTotalWeighted
Improve performance testing metrics5434211970.3
Add online booking feature101010311.1
Add chatbot feature00100127.4

Repeat this process for every criterion.

Summary matrix

The final part of the job is to put all of your results from the previous steps into a summary matrix. This lets you see at a glance the weighted scores for every option.

  1. Construct a matrix with your options down the side and criteria across the top, with a Total column at the end.
C1C2C3C4C5Total
Improve performance testing metrics
Add online booking feature
Add chatbot feature
Table: Blank summary matrix
  1. Add the weighted scores for each criterion/option combination from your option scoring matrices.
C1C2C3C4C5Total
Improve performance testing metrics70203955
Add online booking feature11823810
Add chatbot feature7673410
Table: Filled summary matrix
  1. Add up the scores in each row.
C1C2C3C4C5Total
Improve performance testing metrics70203955139
Add online booking feature11823810132
Add chatbot feature7673410109
Table: Completed summary matrix

You can see from the table above that the first two options – Improve performance testing metrics and Add online booking feature – are clear winners. You might split the team and set half to each task.

Full Analytical Criteria Method

This matrix helps you to rank the criteria on which you’re judging priorities. As such, it works well with the aforementioned weighted and scored priority matrix. Create one of these before you start looking at your priorities, so that you can weight your criteria accordingly.

Full Analytical Criteria Method Prioritization Matrix
Full Analytical Criteria Method Prioritization Matrix

This method is a simplified version of Saaty’s Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP). In it, you compare every criteria to all other criteria, and score the comparison. Then you add up each row to come up with a score for each of the criteria.

When should you use it?

Use the full analytical criteria method when:

  • You have a small number of criteria (it gets too complex with more than 4 or 5 criteria).
  • You fully understand your criteria and goal.
  • Your team and stakeholders can achieve consensus on the results.
  • Everyone agrees on the stated goal.

How to create a criteria comparison matrix

To create a full analytical criteria method matrix, follow these steps.

Put together your base matrix

  1. Come up with your list of criteria.
  2. Draw your matrix.
CriteriaFirst criterionSecond criterionThird criterionFourth criterionFifth criterion
First criterion
Second criterion
Third criterion
Fourth criterion
Fifth criterion
Table: Blank criteria comparison matrix
  1. Block out the same-criteria pairs – no need to compare these.
CriteriaFirst criterionSecond criterionThird criterionFourth criterionFifth criterion
First criterion
Second criterion
Third criterion
Fourth criterion
Fifth criterion
Table: Blocked-out criteria comparison matrix

Make your comparisons

  1. Compare the criteria in each row to the remaining criteria columns. For example, compare the first criterion to the second. Is it:
    • Far more important than the second criterion? Assign a value of 10.
    • More important, but not hugely so? Assign a value of 5.
    • About the same? Assign a value of 0.
    • Less important? Assign a value of 0.5.
    • Far less important? Assign a value of 0.1.

You’ll end up with a filled-in matrix that looks something like this:

CriteriaFirst criterionSecond criterionThird criterionFourth criterionFifth criterion
First criterion1050.50.1
Second criterion0.11005
Third criterion0.50.1510
Fourth criterion500.510
Fifth criterion100.50.10.1
Table: Criteria comparison matrix with comparison scores

Calculate totals

  1. Add up the values in each row.
CriteriaFirst criterionSecond criterionThird criterionFourth criterionFifth criterionTotal
First criterion105100.125.1
Second criterion0.1100515.1
Third criterion0.50.151015.6
Fourth criterion0.100.51010.6
Fifth criterion100.50.10.110.7
Total77
Table: Criteria comparison matrix with scores and totals
  1. Calculate the percentages of the total for each row.
CriteriaFirst criterionSecond criterionThird criterionFourth criterionFifth criterionTotal%
First criterion105100.125.133%
Second criterion0.1100515.120%
Third criterion0.50.151015.620%
Fourth criterion0.100.51010.614%
Fifth criterion100.50.10.110.714%
Table: Criteria comparison matrix with percentages

If you round to a whole percentage, as in the table above, you’re unlikely to get figures that add up to 100%. That’s OK, though. You’re just looking for weightings to use for your criteria, and a rounded one will work fine.

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