What Is a Priority Matrix? (With Importance and Steps)

Updated 28 December 2022

Company executives, managers and other professionals make important decisions daily. Priority matrices can help professionals efficiently make decisions that can benefit their organisation and its customers. Learning more about priority matrices can help you discover how to create one to use during your career. In this article, we answer what a priority matrix is, explore how it works, list different types of matrices and discuss why this decision-making tool is important for businesses.

What is a priority matrix?

A priority matrix is a set number of procedures and steps an individual can take in response to an event. These types of matrices can also help professionals complete simple or complex projects because they often provide guidance and direction to the user. Professionals often create these matrices in a grid or list format, which can help simplify the use of the matrix. Matrices often analyse different components of a project including:

  • effort

  • risk

  • complexity

A more complex project might utilise a more complex matrix, which can enable professionals to address each part of a project. This can help improve the quality and outcome of the project because the project manager or other individual addresses each little nuisance of the project. This prevents professionals from overlooking minor project components that might affect the outcome of the project.

Related: How to Use a Risk Assessment Matrix

How does a priority matrix work?

Priority matrices might operate somewhat differently among different organisations or leaders. Here are some common ways a simple grid matrix might work in a company:

Do now tasks

Professionals complete these types of tasks first, before addressing any other tasks in the matrix. This might involve creating an outline of your project or contacting appropriate personnel in response to an incident. These tasks often require immediate attention that can help improve the outcome of an incident or project.

Related: Key Project Management Skills and How to Develop Them

Do next tasks

Once professionals complete the items in the first section of the matrix, they can continue to the next types of tasks. These items are often of high importance and professionals can complete these tasks on a less urgent timeline. This might involve completing important paperwork in conjunction with an incident or contacting contractors for a project. Setting a deadline and creating checkpoints or milestones for these types of tasks can help professionals stay in alignment with task deadlines.

Do last tasks

These types of tasks are often important for a company and might not have an urgent timeline. This enables a company to allocate its resources effectively. Some examples of these types of tasks might be submitting expense reports after a project's completion or sending follow-up emails after an incident. This can help all individuals within a company fully understand a project or incident even if they're not directly involved or affected by the event.

Related: What Is a Chain of Command? (Definition and Explanation)

Do never tasks

These tasks are frequently low priority for an organisation that professionals can complete when they have extra time in their day. This might involve updating company databases or developing a new checklist to help improve future projects or prevent future incidents. Professionals also frequently delegate these tasks to other professionals who might have more time to dedicate to the lower priority task.

Different types of priority matrices

There are a few different types of matrices you might consider implementing for an organisation. Understanding more about each of these types can help you choose the right one for the company. Some matrices to consider include:

  • Full analytical criteria: This complex matrix combines multiple matrices to help decision-makers develop a final matrix.

  • Consensus criteria: This type of matrix is a simplified version of a full analytical matrix and is helpful if your matrix options seem equal.

  • Combination matrix: If you have an experienced team that understands a certain process, using this causal-based matrix can help you optimise your priorities.

  • Value and risk matrix: This type of matrix can help professionals focus on the risks associated with project tasks. Schedule, cost and functionality risks are all important for professionals to take into consideration with this matrix type.

Related: How to Write a Business Case (With Template)

Why are priority matrices important?

Companies use priority matrices for a variety of reasons. Here are some important considerations you might contemplate when deciding how to use a matrix for an organisation:

Improve decision-making processes

Matrices help simplify the decision-making process which can help companies make effective decisions faster. Applying this to company decisions can help an organisation simplify complex decisions into more manageable simple decisions. Certain matrices also rank options for a company, which can help provide an unbiased view of a company's options. Matrices can also help companies focus their discussions and efforts on specific talking points, which can help a company expedite its decision procedures.

Related: Decision-Making Skills: Definition With Tips

Reduce incident response timelines

Incident response matrices can help businesses respond faster to an incident, such as a security or network incident. An incident response matrix guides professionals through a step-by-step process that helps them address each part of an event. Having faster responses means that a company can resolve and recover from an incident, which can improve customer satisfaction and data security.

Standardise procedures

Matrices standardise processes so any person can use them. This can help prevent any errors as an individual navigates the matrix. Having a simple standard process can also help prevent any confusion when using a matrix.

How to create this type of matrix

Each company might create a matrix in a slightly different manner. There are many common components and steps a company can take to create an effective matrix. Here are some common methods that companies use to create prioritisation matrices:

1. List project tasks

Creating an extensive list of tasks for your project can help you ensure you address each component of a project. Verifying you include tasks from the seemingly insignificant to vital project components can help you improve project outcomes and performance. Using a spreadsheet tool or other type of software can help you stay organised when creating your list.

2. Determine the consequences of each task

Once you've listed out each task, it's a good idea to think about the consequences related to completing each task. Understanding the effect of completing or not completing a task can help you better prioritise tasks in the matrix. It can also help you determine if a task is worth prioritising for a project or event.

3. Identify what's important

Once you've determined the consequences associated with each task, you can separate your list of tasks into two categories. Companies often separate these tasks into high and low importance tasks. Collaborating with project experts or company leaders can help you efficiently categorise your tasks.

4. Differentiate urgency levels

Upon categorising the tasks into two categories, you can further portion these categories into subcategories. Focusing on the urgency of each task can help you determine if each task has high or low urgency. Once you've separated these tasks into their subcategories, you may likely have four groups in total.

5. Assign number values to tasks

Number values can help you quickly find where each task might fit best in the priority matrix. For high-importance and high-urgency tasks, you can assign a number value of one to the task. The next level involves high-importance and low-urgency tasks. Level three tasks often include low-importance and high-urgency tasks. The final tasks to incorporate in the matrix include low importance and low urgency tasks, which you can assign the number value of four.

Tips for using priority matrices

Learning how to use these matrices can help you efficiently create new matrices for an organisation. Here are some tips to help you start creating your own comprehensive matrices for an organisation:

  • Complete online courses: Online courses can help you learn more about creating matrices. Online courses are also useful tools to help develop additional leadership and critical thinking skills.

  • Delegate tasks: Assigning certain tasks to other team members can help you focus on higher priority tasks. Lower priority items are also useful tasks you can use to help orient new team members to prioritisation matrices.

  • Collaborate with others: Communicating with company executives and subject matter experts can help you efficiently prioritise tasks. This can help you improve the quality of the final matrix.

  • Practice creating matrices: Creating practice matrices can help you familiarise yourself with the matrix creation process. This can also help you practice separating tasks between high and low priority items.

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