5 prioritization templates that help you focus on the right stuff

Prioritization is key to any organization. But yet, the way you do that differs strongly for whatever you and your teams aim to achieve. A product manager of a software startup who tries to come up with a coherent feature roadmap naturally works under different conditions and constraints than a project manager in the construction business who needs to decide between suppliers. So what is the right method for you and the job that you are trying to get done? One answer is looking at what management literature has to offer and adjust these proven prioritization templates * to your own situation.

Find below five hand-picked prioritization templates that help you focus on the right stuff.

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#1 — Feature prioritization

Prioritization is a perennial challenge when building a product roadmap. This template will help you build the right features and products. This template is particularly useful for product managers and software entrepreneurs.

Business value (y-factor)

  • Revenue increase: Does this feature increase your revenue?
  • Customer value: Does this feature add value to your customers?
  • Strategic fit: How aligned is this feature with your company strategy?

Effort (x-factor)

  • Development costs: What are the initial costs to develop this feature?
  • Marketing & sales costs: What are the costs to market and promote this feature?
  • Maintenance costs: What are the costs to maintain this feature after its release?

Risk (bubble size)

How big are the risks and dependencies for the development of this feature?

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#2 — Risk-reward prioritization

Find your oysters, white elephants, pearls or bread and butter projects. This prioritization template will force you to deal with resource issues. Oysters are hard projects with a low success probability, but a high business value if successful. Bread and butter initiatives are projects which have a high chance of succeeding, but a relatively low business value if successful. Pearls are easy projects with large value – they are often oysters that have come close to succeeding and may provide sustainable benefits for your business. Don’t follow up with the white elephants as they are projects that are unlikely and not valuable.

This template is commonly used by project managers, product managers, marketing managers and CXOs (chief officers for anything).

Probability of success (y-factor)

Criteria for this y-factor

  • Technical: What is the probability of technical success?
  • Commercial: What is the probability of commercial success?

Value (x-factor)

Criteria for this x-factor

  • NPV (net present value): What is the expected NPV of the project?
  • Benefits after years of launch: How big are the long-term benefits of this project?
  • Market value: Does this project increase your market value?

People or work-month allocated to the project (bubble size)

Definition of the bubble size factor: How many resources do you need to spend on this project?

airfocus-bubble-chart-view-risk-reward

#3 — Business strategy prioritization

Prioritize your ideas and projects based on their strategic fit, economic impact and feasibility. Project managers, product managers, marketing experts, consultants and entrepreneurs of all kinds get the most value out of this prioritization template.

Strategic fit (y-factor)

  • Alignment with company goals: How aligned is this project to your corporate goals?
  • Market positioning: Does this project position you better in the market?
  • Core capabilities: Does this project improve your core capabilities and competencies?

Feasibility (x-factor)

  • Technical risk: How big are the technical challenges of the project?
  • Resources financial: What are the financial resources to execute this project?
  • Resources people: Do you have the skills and bandwidth to execute this project?

Economic impact (bubble size)

What is the economic impact of the project?

airfocus-bubble-chart-view-business-strategy

#4 — Boston Consulting Group prioritization

Use the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) matrix, if you need to distribute money or resources across your business units or products. Find your poor dogs, question marks, stars and cash cows. This template is one of the most cited management frameworks and delivers best outcomes for high-level, strategic decisions.

Market growth rate (y-factor)

What is the growth rate of your business units or products in their respective markets?

Relative market share (x-factor)

What is the relative share of your business units or products in their respective markets?

Allocated resources (bubble size)

How many resources do you need to allocate to this project?

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#5 — McKinsey prioritization

Prioritizing your business portfolio will empower you to develop growth strategies and make keep or kill decisions of your business units. The prioritization templates is often used by entrepreneurs, strategy consultants and top-level managers.

Industry attractiveness (y-factor)

  • Industry growth rate: What is the long-run growth rate of the industry?
  • Industry size: How big is the industry?
  • Industry profitability: How profitable is the industry? Consider using Porter’s Five Forces framework at this stage to determine profitability.
  • Industry structure: How is the industry structured? Consider applying a Structure-Conduct-Performance framework to determine this.
  • Trends of prices: Do price trends influence the industry in a positive or negative way?
  • Market segmentation: Does the market segmentation influence the industry in a positive or negative way?

Strength of business unit or product (x-factor)

  • Market share: What are the market shares of your business units or products?
  • Relative growth rate: What are the relative growth rates of your business units or products?
  • Company’s profitability: How profitable is your business unit or product?
  • Brand value: How big is the value of your brand?
  • VRIO resources or capabilities: Are your resources and / or capabilities valuable, rare, costly to imitate and is your firm organized to capture this value?
  • CPM score: How big is your Competitive Profile Matrix score?

Proportion of the business revenue generated by that business unit (bubble size)

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All the prioritization templates above are already integrated into the airfocus web-app. Sign up for our free beta and benefit from more objective and smarter decisions!

We’re at the start of the journey of building airfocus to solve a billion dollar problem (read here why we build airfocus). Get in touch with malte@airfocus.io or @airfocusApp for a demo or leave a comment below, we would love to hear from you. You can also join our newsletter to learn about prioritization, decision making and focus.


* The prioritization templates include two or three strategic factors and are best visualized in a bubble chart. The prioritization factors (y, x and bubble size) are used for the dimensions / axis of the bubble diagram. As you will learn in this article, factors themselves can also consist of one or many criteria. The final factor values in the bubble chart are eventually a result of the corresponding criteria values and weightings.

Not How, but Yes: Ask these questions early to improve your priorities

Being SaaS startup founders ourselves, we at airfocus are huge fans of the The Startup Chat podcast by Hiten Shah and Steli Efti. It is a great resource for software entrepreneurs with lots of strategic and practical advise on how to successfully run companies. In one of their last episodes (#167) Hiten and Steli perfectly outline our own narration for why we build airfocus and the importance of priorities. The podcast is about the book “The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters” by Peter Block, which inspired Steli so much that he felt to share and discuss his learnings on decision making with Hiten.

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People keep asking “How?” as a defense against living their life

The book’s core idea is that people tend to instinctively jump too quickly from the idea stage to “how” (to implement the idea) without questioning if it is even the right thing to do. This can be explained by pragmatism and people trying to be useful (“I need to plan / manage / look busy”). As the author of the book points out, asking “how” is often used as a defense mechanism, because it feels like an easier task than asking the more challenging strategic question of whether you should follow up on the idea in the first place. “How” will usually bring many other, smaller questions that are easier to answer. It is comparable to procrastination where cleaning up your office desk becomes a more attractive (useful, but still hated) task compared to the more valuable job of tax declaration, which is even more hated.

Tips by Hiten and Steli on how to improve your priorities

Hiten and Steli have a very inspiring discussion about how they personally deal with the situation. Hiten claims that he never asks “how” (or at least tries to not do so), because he knows that if a) something is the right thing to do and b) he wants to do it, he will find a way to do it. The “how” comes as you do it. Steli has been self-reflecting while reading the book and recognizes that he often has “how” discussions, simply because of his hands-on mentality and out of curiosity. He also admits that sometimes, asking the question “how” can make you unproductive and distract you from your priorities.

If something has to be done, get it done – no questions asked.

The two entrepreneurs conclude that people take too much time to discuss the “how”, instead of talking about the “if”. Instead, when you’re faced with a problem or a new challenge, ask yourself, “What is the right thing to do?”, make a decision and then move on from there. As longs as everyone is aligned, you will figure out a way to solve problems and react to an ever changing environment, which is especially true for startups.

Our SaaS tool airfocus is all about helping decision makers and teams to build prioritization frameworks (read about our prioritization templates here) that empower to answer the “if” (you should do it) and “what” (which ideas to implement and in what order). In my situation as a co-founder at airfocus I talk to our users about prioritization and focus on a daily base. Many of these decision makers seem to increasingly see the need to prioritize and the value in asking “what is the right thing?” early and often. It helps you to stay focused and stops your people to run into opposite directions, which usually results in the burning of resources and social capital (motivation). I will end this post with the concluding thoughts by Steli and Hiten, which they describe almost as a universal law.

As long as we get everyone aligned, we’re good.

airfocus provides simple and beautiful prioritization for decision makers and team. Sign up for our free beta and benefit from more objective and smarter decisions! Get in touch with malte@airfocus.io or @airfocusApp for a demo or leave a comment below, we would love to hear from you. You can also join our newsletter to learn about prioritization, decision making and focus.

Where it all began and why we founded airfocus

Prioritization is important. In fact, doing the right things is arguably the most important thing for any company. Surprisingly, many companies put a lot of effort into doing things right, but they just assume they do the right things. Quite often, that turns out not to be the case. So, why are so many companies struggling with proper prioritization in the first place?

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Prioritization is difficult. Everyone wants to be involved, everyone wants to be heard and everyone wants to have a say. Involving everyone in the prioritization process is impossible. On the other side, different people have different knowledge and information, some of which might be crucial for prioritizing certain things. Even in small companies, prioritization is usually not done by a single person.

So, in order to prioritize properly, you need to collect all the relevant information. Once you’ve done that, you have to prioritize all the things you plan to do somehow against each other. There are frameworks that help you to do that like the risk-reward prioritization. However, these frameworks are not known to everyone and in order to apply them properly you need to set up a complicated Excel sheet. Not exactly what you would like to have in today’s world of remote working and online collaboration, right?

A new solution for prioritizing

airfocus was build to solve exactly those problems. A dedicated tool for proper prioritization, enabling you to finally do the right things. It provides all the known, science-backed prioritization frameworks and makes it easy to use them in the right way. It generates a beautiful visual representation and a roadmap automatically. It lets you collaborate with your team and other stakeholders, making sure all available information comes together in one place. And last, but not least, it connects with all the tools you already use, integrating perfectly with your workflow.

No more messy Excel sheets that are difficult to use and impossible to update. No more endless discussions about why something is more important than something else. No more ugly charts, graphs and tables that nobody understands.

airfocus provides simple and beautiful prioritization for decision makers and team. Sign up for our free beta and benefit from more objective and smarter decisions!

We’re at the start of the journey of building airfocus to solve a billion dollar problem. Get in touch with lukas@airfocus.io or @airfocusApp for a demo, we would love to hear from you. You can also join our newsletter to learn about prioritization, decision making and focus.