The Project Priority Matrix

Every project manager eventually faces a project not going as planned and must take corrective action.  The difficulty lies in deciding what action to take.  Should you reduce scope?  Should you increase budget and resources?  How do you find the right answer?

A priority matrix can help guide the evaluation of options with the project sponsor.  It prioritizes the variables a project must juggle; scope, budget, resources, schedule and quality.  It also documents the details of each input that can be changed to meet project goals.

The Priority Matrix works by giving each project variable a rank, from one to four.  A one is assigned to the element with the least flexibility and a four to the element with the greatest.  Since this is a forced ranking, each rank can be assigned to only one variable and no two elements can have the same rank.  Flexibility is defined as the ability for the variable to change to meet more important project objectives.

During the planning phase of the project, the project manager should work with the project sponsor and other key stakeholders to establish the Priority Matrix.  Completing this activity early has several benefits.  First, it ensures alignment of priorities among key stakeholders and provides a forum for resolving differences.  The second benefit is allowing the project manager and project sponsor to think calmly about corrective actions, without the pressure of the project requiring immediate action.  Lastly, the risk plan can use the Priority Matrix as input.  It provides the team a robust means of actively monitoring risks affecting the priority project variables.

Below is a simple matrix format.  Check the appropriate column (1 through 4) for each variable and include a brief description of the flexibility for each variable (how much can schedule flex?  Can any functionality be eliminated?  Etc.)

Project Priority Matrix

Variable 1 2 3 4 Describe the flexibility within this variable
Schedule (time)
Scope (functionality)
Budget & Resources