Use this team prioritization exercise to focus your team on what needs to be done and get the most out of their role.

Why it’s important to prioritize as a team

Although you may have a clear roles & responsibilities document for each team member, the reality of day to day work is that people most likely don’t (and shouldn’t) refer to that document each time they begin working on a task or project. When you prioritize as a team:

  1. Everyone knows what to do
  2. Everything gets done
  3. People work together better

Without a clear vision to guide decisions on what to work on, your team members will be lost in their day to day work. Use this exercise to get your team focused on the right things, in the right order.

Team Prioritization Exercise

Materials needed

  • A facilitator - ideally someone who is not a part of your team - this will help especially if you are in a stalemate
  • An area large enough to fit all participants without a table or chairs - this is a standing exercise
  • A large whiteboard or flipchart with the prioritization matrix drawn on it (see below)
  • Post-it notes and markers or pens (enough for everyone to have their own)

If you are running this exercise remotely, you will need to have a way to collaborate virtually. Products like Miro, Notion, or Trello could be useful.

Example of the prioritization matrix

Rules of play

  • The initial rating should be done quickly (don’t debate)
  • All ratings are not final until discussed
  • Always leave time to discuss an action plan, even if it is at a high level
  • Plan a time to follow-up

Step 1 - Introduction (5 minutes)

The facilitator explains the exercise and the overall objective. Are you trying to prioritize already existing tasks and projects or brainstorming for a specific project? What are you trying to achieve with this exercise? What time period are you looking to prioritize tasks for? The upcoming sprint or quarter?

Step 2 - Brainstorming (5 minutes)

Everyone writes down tasks, projects, and initiative ideas - one item per post-it note. Try to connect the ideas to either company objectives or team goals, to make the ideas more focused and relevant. There's no hierarchy of ideas, anyone's idea is a good idea.

Step 3 - Rating (5 minutes)

Team members place their post-it note to the chart according to the two following criteria rated from 1 (low) to 4 (high). Rank these on impact and desirability.

  • Impact - if we complete this, will it positively affect progress on our overall team or company objective?
  • Desirability - if we do this, how compelling is the desire for change?

Step 4 - Consensus on placement (10-15 minutes)

The team must decide together if post-it notes are correctly placed. If there are multiple post-it notes for the same or similar ideas, group them together. If consensus cannot be reached for an idea, the facilitator gets the final say. The ideal outcome is to have post-its distributed across the board so that only a few are in the top-right corner.

Step 5 - Prioritization Zone + Action Planning (30 minutes)

The facilitator draws the prioritization zone in the top right of the matrix. Everything here will have a high impact and is highly needed, so should be done first.

Two things to keep in mind:

  1. Draw the prioritization zone at the end once all ratings have been finalized. A prioritization zone added at the beginning will only tempt people to put everything in that zone!
  2. Draw a suitably scaled prioritization zone that your team can work on in the coming period. If everything is in the prioritization zone, further prioritization of just those items should be done.

Once you have your high prioritized items it is time to start planning. Working quickly in brainstorm mode, everyone should suggest a high-level action plan for each item.

The Facilitator asks everyone to develop a high-level action plan for the highest priority items.

  • Ensure that actions are assigned to people who are interested in a particular project to increase ownership for the solution.
  • Work quickly in brainstorm mode; try not to get stuck in the discussion.
  • Each action should be allocated a due date
  • At the end, the Facilitator should thank the Team for their input (and resulting commitment!).

Review your prioritized tasks and action plan. Ask the group to share via thumb-vote how they feel about the team's ability to deliver on time. Thumbs-up = confident; thumbs-down = never going to happen. If the majority of the team

Now that you have brainstormed, prioritized, and have a plan, it’s time to get started on execution -- good luck! ☘️

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