Project Priorities

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Apr 09, 2024

Critical to priority project management are effective management of project changes and prompt, consistent decisions. To do this, it helps to explicitly identify decision criteria for the project during project planning. It’s also important to answer these two questions during the planning stages:

  • What is a project priority matrix?
  • What is a project constraint?

What is a Project Constraint and How to Continue to Meet Objectives

Review the project objectives and the assumptions and constraints identified during project initiation. Explore the reasons for the goals and constraints, and document the consequences of failing to achieve them. If necessary, probe for more information on constraints and goals with the project sponsor and key stakeholders. 

Understanding What is the Project Priority Matrix and how to set Priorities

For most projects, all three parameters—scope, schedule and cost (resources)—are important. Setting priorities enables the project team to determine which of the three is most essential. These priorities support scope planning, decision making, constraint management and plan optimization, negotiating project changes, and integrated change control.

Consider the tradeoffs between scope, schedule and cost by specifying small changes to the stated project objective. Would it be worse to slip the schedule a week beyond the deadline, or increase the project budget by 5 percent? Would it be more appropriate to drop a feature of a project deliverable or to add staff to the project team? Would a slightly longer project that delivers a more robust product be desirable? Questions such as these often arise late in a project, but it is better to deal with them early.

In exploring the costs, pain and appropriateness of small changes, relative priorities emerge. Document priorities using a three-by-three matrix. Place one mark in each row, showing which parameter is constrained (least flexible), which one is to be optimized (somewhat flexible), and for which of the three change may be accepted (most flexible).

Consider the options (there are six) and discuss them with your project team to develop consensus on the priorities.

Next, validate your prioritization with your project sponsors and stakeholders and make modifications, if needed, based on their feedback. For some projects, agreeing to constrain two of the three parameters may be necessary, but it is always unrealistic to limit all three, especially prior to project plan development. Strive for agreement and clearly document the lowest priority.

Periodically Review Priorities

Keep the matrix up to date. If your project changes, reevaluate the priorities to ensure they remain appropriate. Revisit the priorities following business reorganizations and during project reviews. If the priorities shift, revalidate them and update the project documentation.

Excerpted, by permission of the publisher, from The Project Management Tool Kit: 100 Tips and Techniques for Getting the Job Done Right by Tom Kenrick. Copyright 2005, Tom Kendrick. For more information about this book and other AMA book titles, visit

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