Oftentimes, one of a project manager’s greatest challenges is prioritization and to offset this, they may turn to a project priorities matrix. This tool ensures they’re spending time on the right activities.

If you want to streamline project prioritization, we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we’ll explain two popular prioritization matrices and how to choose the right one, depending on your needs.

We’ll kick off this blog with the essentials, defining project priority matrices.

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What’s a project priorities matrix?

A project prioritization matrix is a 2-D chart that illustrates the relative importance of a group of items (tasks, projects, goals, and more). This tool helps you focus on what matters most and keep critical activities on track.

A typical prioritization matrix looks something like this:

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What’s a priority matrix?

A prioritization matrix is a 2-D visual that illustrates the relative importance of a group of items (tasks, projects, goals, etc.) based on two sets of criteria. It’s a powerful tool that helps you focus on what matters most and keep critical activities on track.

A typical prioritization matrix looks something like this:

Priority matrix example

We can break it down into four different components:

  • Two axes (X and Y): X and Y represent the criteria you’ll use to prioritize items (i.e. urgency and importance or impact and effort).
  • Scale: This represents how you’ll measure your variables. Commonly these matrices use a 2-point scale (I.e., urgent or non-urgent) but items could also be ranked 1–5.
  • Items: Items are projects, tasks, goals, or anything you want to plot into your matrix.
  • Quadrants: You’ll weigh your items based on specific criteria and will plot them into one of the four quadrants in the matrix.

As you can see, it’s a pretty simple tool, but when used right, it can save you time, money, and increase project success. Let’s expand on this idea below.

Why using a priority chart will increase project efficiency and success

The Pareto Principle—80% of your project activities will produce 20% of the results—helps explain why many teams benefit from a priority matrix.

If you and your team don’t prioritize work and focus on what really matters, you could waste tons of time on tasks and activities that “don’t move the needle.”

A matrix can help you save time, resources, and keep team morale high by focusing on getting maximum results. Let’s take a look at how to create this tool.

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3 steps to creating a project priority matrix

Though anyone can make prioritization matrices, you won’t get the full value unless you use them as a team. After all, if different team members are ranking tasks in different ways, you could end up with conflicting priorities. That’s why we recommend the following 3-step approach:

Step 1: Create your task list

The first step is compiling the list of items for prioritization. If you already have a team to-do list or a product backlog, this will only take a few seconds — just pull up your list and make sure it’s up-to-date.

If you’re starting from scratch, pull the team together to create your task list. A weekly to-do list template like the one below can help you quickly jot down and track this info.

free weekly to-do list template from monday.com

Step 2: Analyze each task

Now that you have a list of items, rank them based on the criteria and scale you chose. For instance, if one of your metrics is urgency, you and your team will decide whether each item is urgent or non-urgent.

Helpful hint: if you use a free to-do list template (shown above), you can easily add a new ‘urgency’ column and set each task as either urgent or non-urgent so you have all the crucial information in one place.

Step 3: Plot your tasks 

Once you’ve prioritized and ranked your items, it’s time to plot them into your matrix. Map each task into the upper or lower half of the grid on either the right or left half. Don’t worry if you don’t completely get how to do this right now. We’ll cover it more in-depth in the next section when we discuss two popular matrices and how they work.

The 2 most-used priority matrices

A priority matrix is a flexible tool. You can prioritize items based on any criteria., but the easiest way to start is by implementing a proven format. Two of the most popular priority matrices are:

  • The Eisenhower Priority Matrix
  • Action Priority Matrix

Though we’ll soon see they’re similar in structure, each uses different criteria for prioritization. Below, we’ll go into an in-depth explanation for each.

1.The Eisenhower Priority Matrix

The Eisenhower Priority Matrix is based on four time management quadrants developed by author Stephen Covey. According to the model, you can judge any task by two criteria: importance and urgency.

This results in four quadrants:

Eisenhower matrix example

1. Upper lefthand side: These tasks are highly important, but not as urgent. Though they don’t need immediate attention, delaying these too much will move them into the righthand quadrant. A few examples include a deliverable scheduled for next month or a project plan you should finish next week.

2. Upper righthand side: This describes tasks that are highly important and extremely urgent, such as projects with tight deadlines or critical issues.

3. Bottom lefthand side: This quadrant is for tasks that are not as important and urgent. It’s worth examining whether these items take your team away from important assignments that better serve your bottom line. This could include red tape processes or unused reports.

4. Bottom righthand side: These tasks are not super important, but are more urgent. These activities require immediate attention, but aren’t so crucial for your project’s success. Don’t ignore these tasks, however. If you do, they could snowball and turn into an unmanageable undertaking.

If you’re in charge of a team, you may want to delegate these items to someone with more capacity, or automate them. With the right work operating software, you can automate emails or track how much time you spend assisting coworkers with non-related projects and pause on those efforts until you have time.

Here’s what the Eisenhower Priority Matrix can look like on a fully customizable work software:

monday.com's Eisenhower matrix template screenshot

Let’s check out how the second priority matrix stacks up against the Eisenhower approach.

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2. Action Priority Matrix

This model is similar to the Eisenhower Matrix, but focuses on impact and effort. On the lefthand side, we have two spectrums: high impact and low impact.

Action priority matrix exampleHere, you’ll make a list of all your tasks and evaluate them based on their potential impact and how difficult they are.

Let’s break down each quadrant:

1. High-impact, low effort: These are the items you want to tackle first. They highly impact your bottom line and are relatively simple compared to other items. In short, they’re quick wins, such as creating a call to action for your blog pieces.

2. High impact, high effort: Typically, these important tasks require more resources. Planning your quarterly goals and developing a strategy for execution could belong in this quadrant.

3. Low impact, low effort: These are items that are easy to do but don’t provide a ton of value to your business goals, such as paying invoices.

4. Low impact, high effort: These items require some thought as to whether they’re worth the time and effort, such as double checking spreadsheets from a year ago.

Now that we’ve covered these two matrices more in depth, let’s talk about when to use each one.

When should you choose the Eisenhower matrix?

As the Eisenhower Priority Matrix focuses on importance and urgency, it’s more suitable for prioritizing work in the context of time. Use Eisenhower to prioritize:

  • Daily tasks
  • Decision-making
  • Activities with deadlines

This matrix is great for tackling waterfall projects, tasks within a sprint, or managing your personal to-do list.

When should you choose the Action Priority Matrix?

As we mentioned earlier, the Action Priority Matrix weighs items based on impact and effort. So this matrix might be ideal to prioritize opportunities such as:

  • Business operations
  • Product features
  • Large initiatives

This matrix is best for prioritization when using an agile framework. It helps you narrow down which items should be in your next sprint and which to delay or scrap.

Priority matrices help you focus on what really matters. To take these matrices to the next level though, you need the right tools and that’s where monday.com can help.

What’s monday.com and how can it help you transform your prioritization process?

monday.com is a flexible, intuitive Work Operating Software (Work OS) that helps plan, manage, and run any kind of work.

Though we’re much more than a  project management software, we help you deliver projects quickly and efficiently. Below, we’ll walk you through some of our top features that will help you prioritize your project.

  • Task management: Set task dependencies, assign team members tasks within the matrix, and monitor progress for all of your projects.
  • Automation: Automate your tedious processes—such as notifying team members when a status changes— so you can focus on what really matters.
  • Collaboration: Add tags, share files, and transparently communicate with team members on on platform so everyone has the same view of what’s happening, even as priorities shift.

To read a full description of all the features we offer, check out our product overview page. 

Thanks to flexible building blocks, you can create any workflow you need from scratch, or get started immediately with one of our 200+ templates. Choose from:

Get the full list of all of our templates here.

Create your perfect matrix on monday.com

Not all tasks are equally important. A priority matrix helps you discover which ones deserve your attention first. Now that you’re armed with the right knowledge, it’s time to put what you know into action.

Create the flexible project priorities matrix that will help your team stay informed and on task on monday.com!

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