I was on the train recently and noticed the sticker announcing that the seats near the door were for priority customers: those with mobility problems, pregnant women and those with infants. Then it went on: “Please remember that the need for this seat may not be immediately obvious.”

Priority projects might not look obvious either. The projects that are the top of the list may not appear that exciting from the outside. Here’s how you spot a priority project.

They enable something else

Some projects aren’t glamorous in themselves. Think, for example, of a network upgrade. That doesn’t sound very “priority”. It’s infrastructure, it has probably been planned for a few years as the relevant team would have been aware that the kit was coming to end of life. It’s not wildly expensive or likely to make headlines.

But without the network, the underlying infrastructure, you can’t deliver anything else. That e-commerce project would fail as response times for customers would be too slow. The secure project management tool you want to roll out wouldn’t perform well and project teams would get frustrated, going back to their old tools and wasting the investment. There are plenty of other examples I’m sure you can think of too: without the network to enable the other projects, the other projects are dead in the water.

That’s why enabling projects can be the top priority.

They deliver part of the strategy

Think mobile, BYOD or whatever is hot in your industry right now. Your company strategy may include projects like those or something else entirely, but the concept is still the same. If your project completes deliverables that help achieve the strategy, it’s a priority. The strategy is where the company is going and it makes sense that initiatives which will help the business achieve that take priority over smaller, tactical projects.

They have high management attention

You can spot a priority project by how many people get the project updates. When you report your project to the C-suite, it’s a priority. If it’s a priority for the board then it’s likely to be top of someone’s To Do list.
The projects with lots of attention and interest from senior management are often seen as the priority, even if they aren’t “important” in the traditional sense. That also means that you may find your project is a priority even though it delivers very little of value and is not strategic. The right sponsor can get your project allocated top priority status even if other projects would definitely be more worthy of the title.

This is the flip side of priority projects: sometimes an objective eye would reclassify your company’s priorities based on more measureable criteria than who played golf with which customer at the weekend. However, there are plenty of office politics in project management and if this happens to you it won’t be the first time that a board member or other senior manager has claimed their pet project is the new business imperative.

They suck up resources

Priority projects suck up resources. If your project is losing resources (people, money, equipment) to another project it’s a sure sign that the other has a higher priority status than yours.

There’s nothing you can do about this. Find ways to manage your project without those resources and replan if you have to deliver less scope, over a longer time period and to a reduced budget.

They are on the list

There is one, final, easy way to tell if your project is a priority: it will be on the list. Some Project Management Offices have project prioritisation spreadsheets. Simply look up your project on the list and see where it falls in relation to everyone else’s projects. If a list or ranking like this exists in your PMO then it’s really easy to see where you fall in the priority stakes.

If you don’t have a list like this but do have a PMO, ask them to think about prioritising the projects against one another like this. It will make some decisions far easier, such as choosing which project takes priority for software changes, resources and so on. It helps everyone – even if your project isn’t in the top 10 at least you know where you stand and can help the other project managers achieve company objectives by being flexible and accommodating if you have to make changes to your own work schedules because of their requirements.