Project management: 3 methods for prioritizing requirements

by Rich Schiesser - A common use of brainstorming is to identify the requirements for a particular discipline. Once members of a cross-functional team have identified a large list of requirements, they often struggle with ways to gain consensus on prioritizing them. Getting 10-15 members of a team to agree on the rankings of as many as 50 items can be a laborious, frustrating, time-consuming challenge. There are several effective methods that teams can use to develop an agreed-upon list of requirements by order of importance.

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Three administrative tasks need to occur before establishing priorities:

1. Display all requirements in plain view of all members of the cross-functional team. Flip charts, whiteboards, smart-boards, or laptop projection systems are ideal for this.

2. The team needs to closely scrutinize the list to merge any similar requirements and to reword requirements needing additional clarity. Revisions to the list must be done with the consent of the entire team.

3. Finally, the new list of requirements should be renumbered. The most straightforward team approach for prioritizing a list of requirements is to ask each team member to assign a high, medium, or low designation to each requirement. These designations can be converted to numerical values (for example, high = 3, medium = 2, low = 1) to develop a quantification matrix like the sample shown in the table below. The requirements can then be ranked according to their total values.

Sample Quantification Matrix to Prioritize n-Requirements

Team

Member

#1

Team

Member

#2

Team

Member

#3

Team

Member

#4

Team

Member

#5
Totals
Requirement #1 2 3 1 2 2 10
Requirement #2 1 3 2 3 2 11
Requirement #3 1 2 1 2 3 9
Requirement #4 2 3 2 3 2 12

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Requirement #n 1 2 1 2 2 8

In the example shown in the table, the cross-functional team consists of five members who are evaluating n requirements. One drawback of this approach, particularly for small teams, is that it limits the range of priority values. With five members voting, the maximum value of a requirement is 5 * 3 = 15 and the minimum is 5 * 1 = 5. This means only 11 unique values (5 through 15) could be assigned. If 30 or 40 requirements are being evaluated, many will have duplicate values assigned to them. One way to address this is to add two more designations for each requirement and to adjust the values accordingly. One designation would be a combination of high/medium and the other a combination of medium/low. The new values now become high = 5, high/medium = 4, medium = 3, medium/low = 2, and low = 1. The new range of values now becomes 5 through 25, resulting in 21 unique values. This obviously does not guarantee the elimination of requirements with identical priorities, but it does greatly reduce their likelihood.

Another method -- and one that yields the greatest range of priorities -- is to have each member of the team numerically rank all requirements from the most important to the least important, with the most important given a value of 1, the second most important given a value of 2, and so on. The values of each requirement are then totaled. The requirement with the lowest total value is ranked first in the list of priorities (highest priority), the requirement with the next lowest total value is ranked second, and so on. This method is known as the nominal group technique (NGT) and is best used when precise delineations of priorities are needed. The drawback to it is the additional administrative work needed to generate and compile all of the necessary values.

A popular variation to the NGT is to limit the number of items ranked to only the top half or top quarter, depending on the number of requirements and team members. This works particularly well when there is a large number of requirements to prioritize and a relatively small group of individuals to rank them. For example, if there are 20 requirements to be ranked by a team of 10 members, then having each member ranking half or 10 of the items is a good approach. On the other hand, if there are 30 requirements to be prioritized by a team of 5 members, then asking each member to rank one-quarter, or 7, of the items is the approach to take.

Rich Schiesser is the author of the 2nd Ed. of 'IT Systems Management', published by Prentice Hall Professional, January 2010, ISBN 0137025068, Copyright 2010 Pearson Education, Inc. For a complete Table of Contents please visit: www.informit.com/title/0137025068

See also:

Brainstorming: 16 Ground Rules

IT Project Management: Putting the Action Back Into Action Items

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