Does your day-to-day work match up with business priorities? For many software teams, the answer is no. Which is why folding practices like prioritization workshops into your business is even more important than ever. Here’s how to run one.
Before the workshop
1. Make your project/task list
Which tasks or projects do you want to rank and prioritize? Are you ranking items within a single sprint? A particular set of product features? Or perhaps a larger scale?
Whatever the answer, you’ll want to make this list before going into the meeting to ensure nothing important gets left out of the discussion.
And if you want to whittle down a long priority list in order to keep your meeting short and productive? This is a great time to set up a voting process for stakeholders to identify which priorities should be up for consideration. This has the added benefit of getting everyone thinking about the priorities ahead of the meeting.
Share the whiteboard ahead of time with the list of priority items. Tell attendees to add emojis or draw indicators (e.g. stars, dots, checkmarks…etc) near the items they feel are most important. Limit to a number of 2-3 so you can stay laser focused on priorities.
2. Choose your prioritization method
How will you rank priorities during the workshop? There are a handful of ranking options. One of the most popular is the Impact v. Effort Matrix (a matrix where you rank things based on level of impact versus the effort it takes to execute). Another option is to rank tasks by urgency, user importance, cost to the company, and/or team ability.
There’s no one right answer for every company, so we recommend looking at methods ahead of time and choosing whatever works best for your specific culture, teams, and company priorities.
Running the workshop
1. Revisit business goals and purpose (5 minutes)
Before you get into the task of prioritization, make sure everyone is on the same page about two key things:
Why these tasks matter
What you are trying to accomplish with each
This will help you prioritize not just based on team preferences or workloads but also based on what matters to the company and your ideal customer outcomes.
This should be the first thing on your agenda.
2. Use a shared, visual space to list the items you need to prioritize (10 minutes)
However you format your priority matrix—be it Eisenhower or another method—make sure it’s big and visual and collaborative.
If you’re all in the same room, this might mean using a large whiteboard or giant notepads and sticky notes. If you’re working partially or fully remotely, a tool like ClickUp Whiteboards can be a godsend, allowing the group to watch as you move priorities around on a matrix in real time.
Set a timer for this and each other timeboxed session so that teams know how long they have to brainstorm.
3. Place tasks or projects on your matrix as a team (15 minutes)
Now that you have your visual, collaborative space, it’s time to have the team rank the priorities accordingly. Where do they fall on the scale of urgent or not, difficult or not, high or low cost, importance to users, etc.
Use the prioritization method you chose ahead of time and make sure to explain why you chose that method before diving in. This helps people frame their suggestions based on your underlying strategic logic.
Don’t forget to leave space for innovation. Can any of the tasks on your priority list be combined? Made more efficient? Are there things on your priority list that shouldn’t be there? Even if leadership has honed down the task list or the team has tried to cull priorities ahead of time, this is a great time to bring up any new ideas or opportunities for further efficiency.
It also helps to look for patterns. If you notice that you have five items on your list connected to settings, that might be indicative that you need a larger initiative rather than a few one-off tasks.
4. Discuss mid-level priorities (20 minutes)
Some priorities will naturally rise to the top of your matrix. That’s a win and it’s great—but don’t fall into the temptation of focusing too much time, energy, and discussion on those.
Once you have your priorities on the board, take a look at things that are edging toward the top of the matrix. Is there anything you can do to make them more feasible, more valuable to a user, or less difficult to execute? Is there, in other words, any way to bump them from the “probably high value” category and into the “no-brainer” portion of your matrix?
Make sure you have some time (5 - 10 minutes) set aside during this workshop to brainstorm the answers to those questions.
Understanding where these priorities fall in your matrix means less stress when backlog requests or other software team time-sucks force you to deprioritize some of what’s on your list. Which activities can be quickly deprioritized? The matrix has the answers.
5. Make your “final” priority list—and cuts (10 minutes)
Once the team has agreed where things fall on the matrix, it’s time to identify your top opportunities and evaluate whether anything that ended up in the low-priority quadrant of your matrix is even worth putting on the to-do list at all. Some items in the low-priority quadrant are small and worthwhile enough that they should make your priority list anyway. Others may not be bringing enough value to the table to make the cut.
Before you leave the room, make sure everyone is aligned on not just top priorities but the bottom. If something is getting cut, make sure the team can clearly communicate and defend why it didn’t make the list.
After the workshop
Priorities shift all the time—with small changes in the market, user needs, or business goals, and with big changes like global pandemics or huge innovations that hit the market. This means your priority list is also subject to change. Make sure someone is in charge of keeping an eye on anything that might shift priorities and scheduling a check-in mid-projects if needed. After all, companies that pivot are the companies that win in the end.
Prioritization in ClickUp
Take you prioritization to the next level with ClickUp's Impact Effort Matrix Template. Our template guide walks you through everything you need to know get started with a click.