Insight Blog

Initiative Prioritization (Part One)

by David Wise

January 24, 2019 | Project, Program, Portfolio Management

As we begin a new year, we often contemplate our successes and challenges from the previous year and form resolutions. Similarly, many companies/teams find themselves continually reevaluating their initiatives and priorities.  There are many ways to go about goal setting and prioritization, but even the most basic approach, if executed properly, can yield tremendous benefit to the company by aligning resources toward a common objective.  In this blog, we will share a simple and useful approach for establishing goals and prioritizing.  In our next blog, we will outline how additional activities can be performed to improve upon the simple model outlined below.





Ideation is about identifying the universe of ambitions that your team might want to pursue.  Although many companies maintain backlogs and roadmaps of previously identified initiatives, we recommend a more open-ended “blue ocean” approach be used to identify/re-evaluate needs in the face of changing market conditions.  In our simple approach, each member of the leadership team should be presented a challenge question to consider.  For example:

If you were entering our market as a startup what would you do to create competitive advantage?

While the challenge question above might uncover general company weaknesses and emerging threats, a more targeted question could also be used if there is a specific challenge that the team is facing. (“How will the emergence of [X] change our [product/customer/operations]?”)

Each leader is asked to prepare in advance a response to this question that is then discussed, challenged and defended amongst the leadership team.  Once well understood, the responses that the team believes to have merit can usually be aggregated/simplified into a set of “Big Rock” initiatives for further consideration.  Ideally, a team will reach consensus around 5-7 “Big Rocks”.  The end result will be a list of ambitions that cut across many different elements of the business:  Culture, Strategy, Product/Methodology, Talent Management, etc.


Rather than immediately shifting to debate and prioritization, each initiative is assigned a leader who works outside of the meeting to create a brief charter that elaborates the benefits, requirements, and timeline for achieving the desired objectives.    The charter enables the team to describe the overall benefits to the company, alignment with other initiatives, and the effort required to implement.  At a subsequent leadership meeting, each leader presents an overview of the charter to the leadership team for feedback and refinement.


Immediately following the charter presentations, the team moves to determine which initiatives should be prioritized for immediate focus..  Although you may be tempted to drive each of the Big Rocks forward (and just manage resourcing issues among the initiatives), that approach may dilute the importance of those items that truly require immediate focus.

To determine which items will be prioritized, a simple tally mechanism can be used. Each team member independently votes for the top-3 initiatives (without rank).  A tally can then be used to determine the top-3.  The result can be further rationalized by having each team member briefly describe the logic they used to make their top-3 selections.  Even though this last step may not change any of the rankings, it is beneficial in cementing the team’s understanding of the criticality of each of the prioritized items and generating buy-in amongst those leaders that may have voted differently.


The final output will be a prioritized set of “Big Rock” initiatives. Each initiative should be assigned a leader, a supporting team, and a timeline to drive the changes forward.  Since the level of research and analysis performed in the process outlined above was minimal, the quality of the output will be limited by 1) the team’s awareness/knowledge market conditions and business performance, 2) each individual’s commitment/ability to form a complete and accurate charter, 3) whether realistic assessment of current trajectory and the organization’s ability to transform was incorporated into the charter and prioritization activities.  In our next blog, we will discuss some improvements that can be made to each step of this process to strengthen the output.

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