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GuidesProduct developmentGuide to the prioritization matrix

Guide to the prioritization matrix

Last updated

25 May 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

A prioritization matrix is essential to any business or product development project. It allows you to see which tasks are critical and most valued by the company.

What is a prioritization matrix?

Also known as a priority matrix, a prioritization matrix is a business method that helps you analyze which tasks are a priority. Using the matrix, you can compare options to see which are urgent, vital to the project, and have the best chance of succeeding.

A prioritization matrix can be used by teams of any size or a single person. There are several different templates of prioritization matrices, all of which can help you decide what to focus on.

Eisenhower matrix

The Eisenhower matrix is a type of 2x2 matrix. It is a simple priority matrix containing four quadrants. Each quadrant represents a level of importance and priority.

The horizontal axis represents urgency and the vertical axis represents importance. The tasks in the top left quadrant are therefore crucial, as they are both important and urgent, so should be approached first.

The second-most-important quadrant is the bottom left, as tasks here are important but can wait.

The top right quadrant contains tasks to be carried out once those in the two left-hand boxes are completed.

The lower quadrant contains tasks that are neither important nor urgent, so can wait until last.

Good time management is essential for running a project well, and it involves carrying out tasks in a timely manner. If you adopt the Eisenhower matrix, you don't want to be left with multiple tasks in the top left quadrant, as this would indicate a bottleneck and approaching deadlines are likely to not be met.

The upper left quadrant should be monitored carefully to make sure tasks that reach this space are quickly executed and closed. The lower right quadrant tasks can be delegated, or even rejected, depending on their priority.

Six Sigma prioritization matrix

The Six Sigma prioritization matrix is about eliminating waste and continual process improvement. It helps you to judge the value of tasks through score-weighted criteria from 0 to 10.

The Six Sigma prioritization matrix is more complex than the Eisenhower matrix. It is designed to mathematically calculate multiple datasets or prioritization factors by which your team wishes to calculate priority.

You work through each factor, assigning a weight value. For example, if you highly value reaching the company’s goal and don’t mind expending extra effort in doing so, create a column for “potential to meet goal” and assign it a weight of 10, then create another column for “level of effort” and assign it a weight of 3. You can have as many or few columns (the standard is four to six) as needed to quantify your prioritization factors. 

Next, create a row for each of the projects or features you want to prioritize. Go through every factor for each project and assign a number between 0 (won’t affect the factor at all) and 10 (will greatly affect the factor). Finally, by multiplying the project’s row numbers by the factor’s weight and adding them together, you’ll get a calculated score for each of your projects.

The final scores will make it clear what to prioritize.

Value and effort matrix

We saw that the Eisenhower matrix judges tasks by urgency and importance. Another way of drawing up the quadrants is by valuing tasks based on value and effort:

  • High value, low effort – Upper left, Quadrant 1

  • High value, high effort – Upper right, Quadrant 2

  • Low value, low effort – Lower left, Quadrant 3

  • Low value, high effort – Lower right, Quadrant 4

By using the four quadrants to judge a project task’s value and effort, we can see what needs to be tackled first (Quadrant 2) and which items may not need to be completed until the very end (Quadrant 3).

This approach can keep team members from working on things that have little value and conserving their effort for what matters most.

When should you use a prioritization matrix?

A prioritization matrix is a great way of organizing tasks by priority so you can work out what to work on next and complete first. It can rank tasks using criteria and let you see at a glance which items are most important and which are not.

It also helps you discover which tasks are reaching a critical stage in the project's timeline.

To prioritize projects

Not every task is important or needs to be done immediately. Reducing the workload and prioritizing tasks will allow the team to agree on which deliverables are needed and when. This approach reduces the waste of resources and time on tasks that have little or no value to the project or the organization.

Adopting a priority matrix can be the one change you make that increases your project’s chances of success.

To better manage time

A to-do list is an itemized list of what needs to be done on a project, but it doesn’t tell you which tasks are the most important. A prioritization matrix is the tool for this and is an effective method to manage time.

The Eisenhower matrix is a simple, effective way to determine which tasks are due today and which need to be completed next. It also helps you see which tasks can be avoided, delayed, or delegated.

Not wasting time on tasks that don’t have a strict deadline allows you to devote more time to urgent tasks that need to be finished as soon as possible, so you can stay on schedule. Priority matrices are a key aspect of project management but are often undervalued when it comes to keeping a project on track.

To promote consensus

Chances are your company is working on several different projects at once, all competing for attention and completion. A prioritization matrix offers an objective way to determine which projects should be prioritized and can be helpful in getting those involved to focus.

A prioritization matrix will give your team an unbiased view of which tasks should be done first.

Priority matrices enable conflict resolution for teams and leaders that have trouble seeing what is important to the project and what is not. It can help solve disagreements and bring the team together through a shared understanding and consensus.

How to use a priority matrix (Six Sigma method)

Now that you know what a prioritization matrix is and how it can benefit your team, it’s time to use one! Here are the steps to get started with a priority matrix using the most customizable Six Sigma method.

Step 1 – Establish your criteria

Every plan starts with establishing the project’s objective and main tasks.

Consider the following:

  • What criteria can help to prioritize projects the best?

  • How will you assign the weight of the criteria?

  • How will you score each of those values? Group discussion? Team votes? Stakeholders decide?

The criteria you use to evaluate the importance of tasks will depend on what your team values most at the time, e.g. value/effort, urgency/importance, or something else.

Once you’ve decided on your ranking criteria, such as “supports goal metric,” and “level of effort,” you'll need to establish a weight value for each. This is where we can place more “weight” on criteria that matter most to us. Nothing matters more than hitting our metric, so “supports goal metric” is assigned a 10 while “level of effort” is more flexible so it could get assigned a 5.

Step 2 – Score your projects

Once you’ve decided on your criteria and weighted them, it’s time to score the tasks or projects. If the project has no effect on the criteria, assign it a “0”; if it will highly impact the criteria, assign it a “10.” Collaborate with your teammates for this stage to ensure the assessment is objective and includes the team's input and opinions.

The best way to overcome bias in a project rating is to have two different teams rate all the options, then calculate the average of these ratings. Include experts with an understanding of the project and any issues.

Before starting, make sure everyone understands the evaluation criteria. By creating a cohesive rating team, your project will likely have a better outcome.

Step 3 – Calculate the weighted scores

Multiply the criteria weight with the option's score to get the "weighted score." Once you've done this across all your criteria and added them all up, you will get the option’s cumulative score. When set up right, this will show the most important priority with the highest cumulative score. 

Using the scores as a reference point, the team can decide in what order the projects or tasks should be carried out.

Step 4 – Finalize and share results

It’s natural for team members to have opposing views and adjustments to prioritization can still be made at this stage.

After agreeing on the scores, put the tasks in their final position in the matrix to prioritize what to actively work on, delegate, and remove from the task list.

Once a final verdict has been decided, share it with your whole team or enter the project’s prioritization into a project management system of your choice.

Benefits of using a prioritization matrix

Using a priority matrix for your project has many benefits, including:

  • Identifying the most important project tasks

  • Prioritizing and breaking down complicated issues

  • Ranking priorities into simple categories

  • Accelerating prioritization buy-in

  • Simplifying the purpose and scope of the project


What are the four levels of prioritizing tasks?

Prioritization in the four quadrants is based on urgency and importance in the Eisenhower matrix. These four levels range from important and urgent to neither important nor urgent. They allow you to see what tasks must be completed first and which ones can be completed last or removed from the project. Another approach uses value and effort as the matrix values.

What are the four D's of prioritization?

The 4 D's of prioritization is a time-management method. The 4 D's are: Do, Defer, Delegate, and Delete. It helps you see if there is something that needs to be done now, what to defer to the future, what to delegate, and what to drop from the list entirely.

What is the ABC model of prioritizing?

Using the ABC method, developed by Alan Lakein, you assign a status of A, B, or C to each item in your task list. Those with a status of "A" are the high-priority items that absolutely must be done. These have the closest deadline and are critical. Those with a status of "B" are the medium-priority items you should do next. These are not as critical but still important. Those with a status of "C" are the low-priority items with low consequences if not completed. These are tasks that would be nice to get done but are not critical to the project.

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