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10 Essential Prioritization Frameworks for Technical Program Managers (TPMs)

Prioritization is a key step in program management. During the planning phase, it is important that the scope of the project or program is finalized based on the desired timeline. Technical Program Managers (TPMs) are responsible for ensuring that the scope is clearly communicated to the team and any dependencies and critical path identified. With agile development, TPMs have to be careful of potential scope creep.

This is where clear prioritization frameworks can be helpful with decision making. If a team is developing the Minimal Viable Product (MVP), prioritization of feature ensures that the MVP is usable by the end customer. Remember, prioritization is not just for product managers. TPMs are equally responsible and should participate in priority discussions.

TPMs planning and prioritizing
TPMs planning and prioritizing

Let's explore 10 essential prioritization frameworks, that all Technical Program Managers (TPMs) should know.

MoSCoW Method (Must-haves, Should-haves, Could-haves, Won't-haves)

Developed by Dai Clegg in the 1990s, the MoSCoW Method was initially designed for software development projects. Today, it's widely adopted in various industries for its simplicity in categorizing and prioritizing tasks. When considering agile project management tools, TPMs need to weigh the advantages of methodologies like the MoSCoW Method.


The method establishes a clear distinction between critical tasks and those that can be deferred, promoting effective communication and alignment among team members. It ensures a focused approach to priority discussions.


On the flip side, there is a risk of oversimplifying complex tasks, and regular reassessment becomes necessary due to the evolving dynamics of projects.

TPMs can seamlessly integrate the MoSCoW Method into sprint planning, ensuring that must-haves are addressed first, followed by should-haves, and so on.

Eisenhower Matrix (Urgent vs. Important)

Coined after Dwight D. Eisenhower, who famously said, "What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important." The Urgent vs Important matrix helps individuals distinguish between tasks that require immediate attention and those that contribute to long-term goals.


It facilitates prioritization based on urgency and importance, supporting TPMs in managing time effectively and making strategic decisions aligned with long-term goals.


However, it assumes a linear relationship between urgency and importance, and some tasks may fall into a gray area between categories, posing challenges for clear categorization.

TPMs can use the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize critical bug fixes (urgent and important) over less critical feature enhancements (important but not urgent), aligning tasks with overall project goals.

Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF)

WSJF is a key concept in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), aiming to maximize the value delivered in the shortest time. It considers factors like job size, business value, time sensitivity, risk reduction, and opportunity enablement.


The approach incorporates multiple factors for a comprehensive prioritization strategy, ensuring alignment with overall business goals and fostering efficient decision-making.


On the downside, effective implementation requires accurate and up-to-date information, and smaller teams may find it complex.

In an Agile program management environment, TPMs can harness WSJF to prioritize user stories based on factors like business value, time sensitivity, risk, and opportunity, enhancing overall project efficiency.

Kano Model (Delighters, Basics, Performance)

Developed by Professor Noriaki Kano in the 1980s, the Kano Model classifies customer preferences into three categories: basic needs, performance needs, and delighters. It's widely used in product management to prioritize features.


The model aligns product development with customer needs, providing a nuanced approach to feature prioritization.


However, successful implementation demands a deep understanding of customer preferences, and initial adoption may require significant resources.

When developing software, TPMs can employ the Kano Model to identify features that would delight users, giving their projects a competitive edge.

Impact-Effort Matrix (Quadrant Analysis)

The Impact-Effort Matrix, also known as the Quadrant Analysis, helps teams visually prioritize tasks based on their potential impact and the effort required. It's a popular tool in strategic planning and resource allocation.


The matrix offers a visual representation of tasks, aiding quick identification of high-impact, low-effort tasks.


Yet, there's room for subjective interpretation of impact and effort, and it doesn't account for dependencies between tasks.

For strategic planning, TPMs can use the Impact-Effort Matrix to allocate resources efficiently, concentrating on tasks with high impact and manageable effort.

RICE Scoring Model (Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort)

The RICE Scoring Model, developed by Intercom, is a prioritization framework that quantifies tasks based on four factors: Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. It provides a numerical score to aid in decision-making.


The quantitative approach facilitates data-driven decision-making, incorporating confidence levels for a realistic prioritization.


However, scoring may be subjective, varying among team members, and constant changes in variables may impact accuracy.

TPMs can utilize the RICE Scoring Model to prioritize features or projects, gaining insights into feasibility and the likelihood of success.

Value vs. Complexity Matrix

In both product and program management, the Value vs. Complexity Matrix is a valuable tool for assessing and prioritizing features based on their perceived value and complexity.


The matrix balances feature value against complexity, aiding strategic planning by focusing on high-value, low-complexity tasks.


Nevertheless, complexity assessment can be subjective, and external dependencies may not be fully accounted for.

When planning product features, TPMs, Product managers and any other tech program managers can employ the Value vs. Complexity Matrix to prioritize tasks, ensuring optimal balance.

Pairwise Comparison (Analytic Hierarchy Process)

The Pairwise Comparison method, often associated with the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP), is a decision-making technique that involves comparing each option against every other option. It's widely used in project management, vendor selection, and strategic decision-making.


It facilitates systematic comparison between options, providing a structured approach to decision-making.


Yet, a clear understanding of criteria is necessary, and it can be time-consuming for a large number of options.

When selecting a vendor for a project, TPMs can use Pairwise Comparison to objectively assess options based on predefined criteria.

Bucket System (Urgency, Importance, Complexity)

The Bucket System, often used in project management and strategic planning, involves categorizing tasks into different buckets based on criteria such as urgency, importance, and complexity.


Simplifying the prioritization process, it enhances focus by directing attention to specific categories.


Despite its benefits, it may oversimplify complex projects, requiring regular reassessment for continued effectiveness.

When managing multiple projects, TPMs can use the Bucket System to categorize tasks, streamlining the prioritization process based on urgency, importance, and complexity.

Impact Mapping (Stakeholder Collaboration, Goal Alignment)

Impact Mapping is a strategic planning technique that visually aligns an organization's goals with potential actions. It focuses on involving stakeholders to ensure that development efforts directly contribute to business objectives.


Fostering collaboration, it aligns tasks with overarching organizational goals, enhancing the prioritization process.


Active participation from stakeholders is required, and initial setup may demand time and resources.

TPMs can employ Impact Mapping to align development tasks with organizational goals, ensuring each action contributes to broader objectives.


The ability to prioritize effectively is a key Technical Program Manager skill. By understanding and applying these 10 essential prioritization frameworks, Technical Program Managers can navigate challenges, allocate resources wisely, and drive projects effectively within the ever-evolving landscape of program management frameworks and processes. As a TPM, integrating these prioritization techniques into your toolkit ensures adaptability to diverse program scenarios.


Looking to grow in your role and get to the next level. Check out the Advancing Your Career course on TPM Academy where you will learn about prioritization and execution requirements for Staff+ TPMs and more.


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