Web design and development is a very busy profession to get into, and most successful designers I know often have more work than they have time to do - especially if they are a corporate Web developer. Determining how to prioritize projects is a critical skill for doing Web design work. And anyone who has ever gotten a phone call from a senior executive about a Web site problem knows what I mean. This is how I go about prioritizing Web projects.
First Things First
Everything can't be first. In other words, unless you're a superhero, you won't be able to work effectively on more than one project at a time, it's it's important to find out which has the highest priority, which is second, and so on.
It seems to me that people are finding this more and more difficult to do. For example, a common comment on my polls is "I can't pick just one! They're all important!" Sure, they are all important, but ties almost never happen in reality, and if you can't pick the most important item in a simple anonymous poll, how are you going to pick the right work in your career? Learn to prioritize and put first things first.
This is always my first step. If I have 2-3 projects with deadlines around the same time, I always take them to my manager or client and ask for clarification. I ask my manager questions like: Which one is the most important? Which one has the most company impact? And always: Which one has the highest priority?
I believe that it is very important for Web developers to work closely with their management. Your managers need to know what you are working on and how long you think your projects should take to complete. You need to find out from your manager where your projects fit in the grander scheme so that you're making the right decisions when the manager isn't around.
But What if Management Doesn't Know?
I've worked on many projects where I've been told "they are all top priority". I often wonder at that statement - is it supposed to spur me on to greatness? As all it usually does is make me overwhelmed. Choosing one project to work on first doesn't mean that the other projects won't get worked on. And like I said before, multi-tasking is a myth.
If your manager won't decide or isn't available, then you have to make the decision. Here's how:
- Compile a list of all your projects.
You can't prioritize if you don't know what you're working on. It's often very tempting to skip this step, as it may seem like you're wasting time. But planning your strategy can give you a clear sense of why you're doing what you're doing. Plus, if you make notes on why you chose project A over project B, there will be fewer questions later.
- For each project, spend no more than 1-2 minutes evaluating:
- The time it will take.
This can be very difficult, I know. But even if you just narrow it down to "short", "medium", and "long" you'll be helping yourself decide priorities.
- Resources required
For example, you may need to work with the Flash developer for one of them and a special graphic from the graphic artist for another. If the Flash developer or graphic artist are not available, then you'll have to postpone those projects until they are.
- Return on Investment (ROI)
Remember that return is more than just money, although money is easy to measure.
Importance is relative, and what you feel is important may be different than what I feel is important. You should try to align your opinions with those of your manager or client.
Unlike importance, urgency is often very easy to measure. If something is due today, it is more urgent than something due next week. If something is requested by "Crazy Cathy" (the marketing rep who calls every 5 minutes to find out if you're done yet) it probably will have more urgency than "Laid-back Larry"'s project. Remember: urgency is not importance, even though Crazy Cathy would like you to believe that it is.
- The time it will take.
- Once you have your evaluations it should be possible to determine which project you should work on first. I like to work on the projects that have the highest importance first, followed by those with the best ROI. I schedule times to work on projects that have resource constraints. I like to have a long list of short projects on hand for when I have a spare minute or need a break.
Some Things to Remember When Prioritizing
- Give your priorities a chance, stick with them for at least a couple hours.
- I try to separate big projects with small ones, so that I can have quick "wins". This keeps my morale up.
- Take breaks. If a project is wearing you down, put it aside for an hour or so and work on something else. This will give you a chance to recharge.
- Be flexible. Priorities do change, but if you've planned out your priority list, you'll have more ammunition when your boss comes to you with a change.
- Don't let bad planning on another's part change your priorities. For example, if "Forgetful Frank" forgot to tell you about his project until 1 day before it's due, makes that project urgent. But if your CEO assigned you something to keep the company afloat, that has more importance and should probably be done first.
How do you prioritize? Let me know how you prioritize your projects.