Stop the Frenzy: How to Prioritize Projects in 3 Steps

Is your team working hard in many different directions without much traction? If so, it might be time to pause, inventory initiatives, and prioritize projects. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. We learned this lesson the hard way growing Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers.

Many years ago, when I worked at Cane’s, we had the brilliant idea to bonus the Restaurant Support Office staff on projects. As the year kicked off, each office team member picked five projects and worked on them tirelessly. The plan was both a spectacular success (we churned out so much work) AND a spectacular failure (near chaos ensued).

Here are some of the consequences of the frenzy of projects:

  1. Restaurant operators were overwhelmed trying to consume many new initiatives from the office. Ultimately, we had to improve, pace & sequence and re-launch almost every project that impacted operations.
  2. Individually-focused projects caused chaos for the business. Resources were constantly in conflict, the extroverts trumped the introverts, etc.
  3. With business strategic objectives undocumented, a lack of alignment occurred between what was important to leadership and the team delivering projects.

That experience taught us to: (1) set clear strategic objectives, (2) prioritize projects and (3) pace and sequence for restaurant operator execution. Now, let’s go through those one-by-one.

1. Prioritize Projects to Strategic Objectives

Every business owner or CEO should know what’s critical to the business over the next 12 to 36 months. The first job of the owners/executives is to articulate the strategic objectives with crystal clear clarity, write them down and share them with the business team(s).

Then, use the written strategic objectives to set goals/priorities, prioritize projects, clear doubts for operators when faced with decisions, and build a mindset to execute.

Antonio Nieto-Rodriquez articulates this well in his article, How to Prioritize Your Company’s Projects in Harvard Business Review. Here’s an excerpt of what Mr. Nieto-Rodriquez calls the “Hierarchy of Purpose”:

  • Purpose: How is the organization’s purpose best pursued?
  • Priorities: What matters most to the organization now and in the future?
  • Projects: Based on the above, which projects are most strategic and should be resourced to the hilt?
  • People: Who are the best people to execute on those projects?
  • Performance: How are you tracking project performance?

2. Inventory and Prioritize Projects Based on Key Attributes

Next, make sure you collect and review (as a team) all key attributes of each proposed project:

  • Alignment: identify which strategic objective each project aligned to
  • Leader: who will lead, own and manage the project
  • Resources: identify internal and external resources needed
  • Cost: identify capital and ongoing investment required
  • ROI/ROIC: what is the anticipated return of the project
  • Risk: how much risk is the business taking to achieve results

Once available, it then helps to compile & prioritize your projects with attributes in a spreadsheet similar to the one below to facilitate a robust team discussion.

Project Portfolio Summary Sample to help Prioritize Projects

If you would like editable copies of these tools, don’t hesitate to contact us.

3. Pace and Sequence Projects for Operational Effectiveness

Finally, you are ready to prioritize, pace and sequence each project. It helps to do this collaboratively as a team, too.

  • Present: allow each project leader to present their projects
  • Align: align your team to the attributes of each project
  • Top Projects: set a critical few top projects, reprioritize others
  • Pace: based on resources, timelines and operations impact –> pace & sequence projects to set start and due dates
  • Adjust: make sure you continue to evaluate projects, project statuses and make adjustments as needed

As you pace and sequence projects, avoid two common traps: (a) too many top projects and (b) lack of operational alignment. Your business can only focus on so many projects & initiatives. First, if something isn’t a top project, it doesn’t mean work has to stop; just that it’s not a priority. Second, operators already have a full plate and need to be able to consume new business processes that come with new initiatives. It’s far better to roll something out effectively once than to have to do that work 2 or even 3 times.


Never forget, if everything you want to do in your business is a priority, it’s no different than not having any priorities at all. Everything can be important, but it can’t all be the most important. Take a timeout with your team to follow the steps above. And, if you need any help, we’re always here for you.

Need Support?

Consult to Grow® provides various tools and services to help you improve your operational performance as you scale and grow your business.  We can expertly assess your scalability, develop tactical plans, facilitate planning, and more. Ready to get started? 


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top