Which projects to say no to

My brother Ben sent me an email about how to prioritise projects … how do we decide which projects we should do, and which we should reject. He writes:

We currently have a list of about 20 potential projects. Wondering if you have done any stuff on how to choose what next.

I’m thinking along the lines of having criteria and a weighting, and then ending up with a priority score.

Criteria might be along the lines of:

  • Business importance: is it just non-negotiable that it gets done, and if so in what timeframe.
  • Time investment: how long will it take.
  • Risk: how confident are you that it can be pulled off.
  • Leverage: is it a closed project, or will you be able to leverage the IP into another project.
  • Utilitarian benefit: how many people will it help, and by how much.
  • Coolness: for example could we present it at the next conference.
  • Challenge/fun factor: will the guys enjoy putting it together – suitable for a hackathon.

Problem with this is we’re trying to use the pre-frontal cortex, or our conscious brain, to make a decision with more data than it can hold. It’s how most organisations make complex decisions, and it’s why so many bad decisions are made.

There’s a lot of really cool science (let me know if you want the articles) that tells us our unconscious is much better at making these types of decisions. Thanks Amantha for teaching me all about it.

Dan and Heath Switch talk about these two parts of the brain as the elephant and the driver. I think of the conscious brain like a calculator – can’t hold much stuff, can’t do much with it, but very focussed. And the unconscious brain like a main frame computer – very powerful but unfortunately no monitor, so you don’t know when it’s going to spit out an answer.

So the best way to choose the projects is to go through all the criteria for each project. However this is to feed the info into your subconscious, not to actually make the decision. During this stage try and turn off the judgements simply be curious about the projects, rather than comparing them. Then sleep on it, and trust your gut on which ones to prioritise and which ones to kick out

Love to hear your thoughts – how do you prioritise projects? You can leave them below.