Remember the Japanese arcade game Whac-A-Mole?
Five cartoon-like moles pop up from holes inside a waist-high box at random. The objective is to hit the moles with a soft, black mallet for points.
If you have worked in IT long enough, chances are you have experienced several “Whac-a-Mole” days! For example, say you finally caught up with your latest patch management when dozens of Slack notifications suddenly slide across your monitor.
Several team members are letting you know about a “503 Service Unavailable” error on the company website — yikes. It seems like just when you finish addressing one pressing issue, another challenge appears without warning! That’s part of the fun, right?
IT managers, admins, and managed service providers (MSPs) must constantly prioritize project wants versus needs. Of course, in the midst of competing user requests, departmental objectives, and tech emergencies, task prioritization isn’t easy.
IT leadership must ruthlessly weigh company initiatives, security priorities, and resources against one another every day. If any of this sounds familiar, this article is for you. Here, we’ll dive into how to prioritize competing tasks and ensure IT resources are spent most effectively.
What Is IT Project Prioritization?
Let’s begin by defining our subject matter:
IT project prioritization is the process of identifying the most crucial tasks necessary for achieving IT-related objectives. Effective prioritization boosts time management, organizational security, company profitability, and employee satisfaction, among other benefits.
With that said, each IT department will rank tasks according to its own unique factors. While some teams are driven by the need to maximize returns on investment, others may have more resources at their disposal. In addition, organizational size, industry, and risk factors also come into play.
Most small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) operate on limited budgets and lean IT teams. For these organizations, it’s imperative that IT departments spend money, time, and energy on the right projects (and products) at any given time.
Weighing Competing Organizational Needs
IT departments must prioritize projects based on the amount of value they contribute to the organization as a whole. The biggest challenge they face is identifying the possible risks of not prioritizing certain projects.
Complicating things further, over the last decade, organizations have multiplied their spending on security solutions. This is in view of an increasing number of security breaches taking place year after year.
According to IBM, data breach costs grew by 10% from 2020 to 2021. Breaches that are related to remote work cost $1.07 million more. The resulting hybrid environment relies on bring-our-own-device (BYOD) policies and other modern workplace trends such as remote work for efficient production.
This change has led to an increase in cyber attacks, necessitating the securing of business applications, devices, and end users. According to Foundry’s 2021 Security Priorities study, 90% of security leaders admit their business is “not adequately addressing cyber risks.”
Further, an overwhelming 98% of respondents expect to increase their overall security budget. At the same time, other IT department projects are competing for attention, like:
- Protecting technical infrastructure, including the network, from security threats.
- Researching and procuring IT hardware and software.
- Managing cloud-based applications and services.
- Installing new hardware, software, and updates.
- Participating in IT inventory asset management.
- Backing up and recovering digital assets.
- Troubleshooting network issues.
- Processing documentation.
Regardless of the organization, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: the need to migrate away from legacy technology toward modern and more cloud-based solutions. With so many tasks to complete, prioritization ensures that resources are allocated to maximize the efficiency of the whole department.
4 Steps of IT Project Prioritization
Like all management tasks, IT project prioritization must be data-driven to be effective. IT managers need methods that capture data in a way they can analyze and act upon. One such tool is the prioritization framework.
Also referred to as a prioritization matrix, it uses specific criteria to inform a project’s team which projects are urgent, which ones bring the most value to the organization and those that have the best chances of success. Here’s a basic summary of how to create a prioritization matrix:
1. Establish Criteria
First, define a set of criteria to score projects. For example, your criteria could be the factors that affect the urgency of a project such as the time required to complete and what could happen if delayed.
Assign a criteria weight to represent the level of importance for each priority criterion. You may want to use percentage-based weighting or assign numerical values.
2. Develop Point System
Create a suitable scale to compare each project against one another. It’s worth mentioning there is no single method to assign scores. Whichever scoring values you choose will become the basis for ranking tasks.
3. Assign Severity Rankings
Say you want to determine the potential severity of consequences related to delaying a particular security implementation. A high score means the risk of not taking immediate action is severe, while a low score means the department could postpone action.
With your framework in place, your team can get down to an objective assessment. After conducting an analysis, combine the results to create your list of priorities.
4. Analyze and Rank Purchase-Related Tasks
Now that you have a master priority list, rank tasks according to how much they will cost. Of course, it’s OK to prioritize whichever purchases your team feels are most urgent. Wondering what this type of task prioritization looks like in practice?
In this article, JumpCloud IT columnist David Worthington shares how his department went from “trial by fire” to well-oiled machine using an IT prioritization matrix.
Common IT Project Expenses
Below are the most common expenses you will encounter as an MSP or IT admin:
1. Acquiring New Technologies
Modern technology solutions can be expensive. Some SaaS providers may even nest the most valuable features of a specific tool under its most expensive package. For example, some Zero Trust (ZT) security tools only include single sign-on (SSO) integration with their highest-priced license.
2. Hiring and Training Employees for New Initiatives
Once you’ve installed modern security architectures, you will most likely need to train existing team members to get everyone on the same page. This is because such tools use fairly new cloud-based technology. A skill deficit can create a barrier to the adoption of these technologies.
3. Maintenance and Management of New Initiatives
After purchasing and installing new technologies, they will need to be managed. Plan to spend money on regular maintenance and repairing systems when they fail. Once your team has analyzed its most common expense categories and filtered them through a prioritization matrix, your biggest savings opportunity will come from IT tool consolidation.
Pro Tip: Consolidate IT Tools To Reduce Security Risks
According to Foundry’s 2021 Security Priorities study, 90% of security executives say that their company has purchased at least one security tool in the past year. When purchasing several solutions, it’s helpful to look for options that meet several functionality needs in one platform.
IT environments that consolidate several tools into a single platform can present fewer security risks and are easier to manage and scale. When prioritizing purchases based on security needs, consider the following user and data aspects.
Crucial Security Aspects:
- Personal identifiable information (PII) and IP data.
- Users who can access the above resources.
- Core business operations.
- Customer data.
Tools that fall under these priority categories include CRMs, ERPs, accounting software, payment or billing software, and HR platforms. But getting all these tasks done together will take time and strain your team. It may also cost more.
Prioritize Zero Trust with JumpCloud
Despite limited budgets, important decisions must be made. Managers must work to both prioritize task itemization and optimize purchase spending to meet organizational objectives.
Is your department navigating the complexities of IT project prioritization alongside a Zero Trust security rollout? If so, check out The Ultimate Guide to Implementing Zero Trust in an Imperfect World.
It’s a detailed eBook chock-full of tips for incrementally putting Zero Trust principles into action. Learn how to navigate technical complexity, get executive buy-in, prioritize ZT initiatives, and more.