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Appendix A.5 Tools for organizing your argument

Prioritizing Methods


Prioritizing methods establish the relative value of choices or alternatives. They answer the question, "What's the most important?" You can prioritize your results in a ranking of the choices to show what should be done first, what requires the greatest attention, and what needs the most resources. Methods differ depending on whether the priorities are based on objectives or criteria.

What are they?

Objective priorities. Actions or choices can be prioritized in terms of how they affect the achievement of an objective or fit into a structured process. These can be called objective priorities.

PERT to find critical path. Program Analysis and Review Technique (PERT) is an example of an objective priority setting process. A PERT analysis shows which activities in a structured process are part of the "critical path." This is the sequence of events that determines the overall pace of your project. Activities on the critical path usually receive priority attention because delays there will affect overall progress.

Triage activities. Triage methods are another objective-based priority setting process in which choices are made according to whether they will affect the overall achievement of objectives. In triage, cases that are not in immediate need of attention receive lower priority, as do cases where the likely success of action is small. Those activities or choices that combine urgency with potential for success get top priority.

Criteria priorities. Project priorities can also be based on a set of criteria. Cost-benefit or cost-performance analyses are examples of this sort of priority setting. Whatever choices yield the greatest value on the criterion measure get highest priority. Results of a MAU modeling exercise would also be a form of objective-based priority setting, but one that may be linked to a group decision process.

Set priorities through voting. Priorities chosen this way are based on the subjective preferences of the voters. These include one-person-one-vote methods, where vote totals can determine priorities. Multi-voting methods are also used in which each voter gets some fixed number of votes to distribute among the choices. Voting may be done by either public or secret ballots.

What are they good for?

Influence outcomes. These methods help effectively choose priorities that will directly affect the progress or outcomes of your work. These are often complex situations where some analytical tools, like PERT or cost-performance measurements, are needed to get a reliable answer.

Cohesive planning, group decision making. Prioritizing methods can also be used in situations where a variety of perspectives or preferences have to be taken into account. In these cases, setting priorities is necessary as a basis for cohesive planning and to establish group-based guides for decisions. In interorganizational efforts, as most integration initiatives are, collaboration is vital to success. Voting methods for priority setting in such collaborative situations provide a public expression of the decision process and the importance of each member's point of view.

Some limitations and considerations

Tough choices. Priorities always involve tough but necessary choices. The process of identifying and setting priorities will almost certainly involve conflict and controversy. Some planning and preparation are necessary to keep the work on track.

More tough choices. Setting priorities does not end the tough decision process. Even though you know which choices are most important, you still have to figure out exactly how to allocate resources and work assignments.