How to Prioritize Tasks Fast
How to Prioritize Tasks Fast
Teams produce thousands of ideas. Add up another thousand of customers’ feature requests, and you get a long list. How do you understand where the focus should be? Read our step-by-step guide to quick prioritization.
Join the DZone community and get the full member experience.Join For Free
Meetings and Frameworks
We tried to discuss all of our tasks during online sync-ups—long, inefficient, and honestly, impossible. There was no time to hear and clarify everyone's opinions. We managed to go over only about 20% of 100 issues planned—the team got tired and unfocused after the first hour. Communication was clearly a challenge for us.
“Communication is the biggest challenge. It is difficult to know what each team and person is prioritizing and how they like to work.” Hiten Shah
We decided to filter the issues through prioritization frameworks. The frameworks introduced criteria that structured the evaluation. The teammates assigned scores by the criteria asynchronously at their convenience. We started with Google Sheets and discussed only tasks with high scores.
There are dozens of frameworks like RICE, REAN, KANO, and others to use. They ease the prioritization but don’t solve all the problems. How do you provide a full issue context for reasoned opinions? And how do you collect the opinions quickly and correctly?
A framework is the first step. You need a well-established process.
5 Steps to Fast Task Prioritization
We gathered the lessons we learned into a step by step guide. By and large, you need a week to establish the prioritization process.
Step 1: Proper Issue Description
A task is a key entity of the job that defines what you need to do. To evaluate one, you need to understand it first. This brings us to the rules of a problem statement.
∙ Clear and Brief
Anybody on the team should be able to understand the problem even if they are outside the context. Be brief yet accurate—don’t waste the team’s time on reading an essay.
∙ Specific and Supported
Add screenshots, docs, links, or other supporting materials—don’t make people guess or look for data.
Use paragraphs, bullets, numbered lists, font styles. Highlight all the essential details—don’t complicate the text perception.
Divide big tasks into subtasks for intermediate checkpoints—don’t fit all in one.
Problem Statement Template
Describe the problem you must solve within the task in sufficient detail. The more qualitatively you describe the problem, the more likely teammates will offer alternative solutions.
Describe the desired outcome—what results you expect to achieve.
Solution or Comments (optional)
Add your ideas on how to solve the problem or comments from customers or teammates.
Step 2: Clear Evaluation Criteria
You can use a prioritization framework. No single framework worked for us, so we picked criteria from several and customized them to fit both team and the product. So we got:
North Star Metric + RICE + AARRR + Business Pain Point
- Sales: Influences the money income. (Acquisition from AARRR)
- Activation: Helps understand how the product works. (Activation from AARRR)
- Retention: Increases users’ motivation to use the product again. (Retention from AARRR)
- Service: Helps spend less time on customer support without quality loss. (Our Business Pain Point)
- FB Ads: Increases the amount of Facebook Ads a user launches via our product. Crucial for Facebook Marketing Partnership. (Product North Star Metric)
- Time: How much time the development requires. (Effort from RICE)
- Mass: How many customers the feature affects. (Reach from RICE)
We evaluate each criterion on a scale from 0 to 3. Some teams use the Fibonacci Sequence—we decided not to complicate.
Step 3: Prioritization Tools
Fast: They enable asynchronous prioritization. Issue evaluation in a tool or spreadsheet is faster than discussing everything on the call.
Flexible: Not all criteria are of the same value. For example, Development Time has a negative impact, and Retention is now more significant than Sales. You can’t tweak the criteria fast without tools.
Automated: Time is a core resource. You have to spend it on prioritization, but much less than on implementing the tasks. Tools help you automate the process and save time for actual work.
How to Automate the Prioritization
Google Sheets, Notion, AirFocus, Coda, and similar tools, where you can set up a calculation formula, are good enough.
We started with Google Sheets—uploaded issues from Jira via Zapier and evaluated. Prioritization got faster but stopped working in a few weeks. The formulas were crashing, spreadsheets freezing, tasks got lost or duplicated. On top of that, we had to open dozens of tabs to read issues in Jira, and the team often forgot about evaluation.
Spreadsheets are operable but require an admin. We spent about 15 hours a month on fixing them.
Prioritization tools are another way out. After the experience with Google Sheets, we created Ducalis. The UI resembles spreadsheets but has full issue context and works super fast.
Ducalis allows tweaking criteria without losing scores or breaking calculation formulas. It also highlights disagreements in scores to get the bigger picture on team alignment.
Step 4: Collecting Diverse Opinions
Different teams can evaluate one task together: product managers, developers, designers, sales managers. Why? Each has its context and purview. Thus the evaluation is less subjective and more professional.
Sales managers understand the impact on sales, developers—development complexity, marketers—usefulness for promotion, and so on.
We divided the criteria for different teams. Joint evaluation allows you to synchronize, align around the goal, and look at the issue from a bird’s eye view.
Step 5: Prioritization as a Weekly Habit
Prioritization needs to be regular. New tasks and ideas appear every week or even day. Some of them may be more relevant to business goals than those you already planned. You have to evaluate and re-evaluate issues consistently to be sure your priorities are always straight.
Friday is our evaluation day—we asynchronously groom the backlog and plan the future sprint. Weekly reminders in Slack help us sustain the habit.
No one wants to spend hours evaluating and discussing tasks, even being fully aware of how important that is. Prioritization should be fast, smooth, and structured. The steps above will help you achieve it. We walked them from long calls to the automated process. We spend about 20 minutes on prioritization and another 0,5% of the team time on discussions every week.
Try implementing the guide and save your team a hundred hours for real work.
Published at DZone with permission of Asya Chirkova . See the original article here.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.