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As we’ve covered before, project management and product management are two different things. Yet sometimes their duties overlap – the development of a new product may well mirror the processes that go into completing any other kind of “project.” Digging into those overlaps can teach us a lot about each field.

Today, we’re talking about what project managers can learn from how product managers handle one very important challenge: prioritization of tasks.

Specifically, we’ll be talking about the RICE scoring model for prioritization, and how you might want to add it to your arsenal of project manager skills.

Prioritization in Project Management

Knowing how to prioritize tasks goes way beyond products. Any project manager who has struggled to come up with a project plan knows this.

And it’s an equal opportunity challenge. No matter what project management methodology you’re using, you’ll spend at least some part of your planning phase prioritizing tasks. Look at just a few examples:

What should PMs consider when prioritizing tasks?

Seasoned project managers probably feel they have a handle on how to prioritize tasks. And they’re probably right! But even the most experienced PM is vulnerable to preconceived notions and biases he or she may not even be aware of. In other words, prioritizing tasks usually consists of:

Subjective considerations: Often un- or sub-conscious, these may be informed by your personal strengths and weaknesses, your beliefs about your team’s capabilities, your team members’ or stakeholders’ beliefs, or any number of biases about the project and its potential impact for your company or stakeholders.

Objective considerations: Often informed by data, these might have to do with financial outcomes for your company, the experience of your customers, and/or anything that can be measured and tested.

No project manager skill set is complete without a system for prioritizing tasks. Systems help minimize some of the more subjective elements of prioritization, possibly strengthening your business cases and leading to better results for all stakeholders.

The RICE Scoring Model

One preferred system in the product management world is the RICE scoring model. As highlighted by Intercom and Lazaro Ibanez, the name stands for:

R = Reach. This is an estimate of the number of people who will be reached by the endeavor. In product management, this is typically a number of customers. In other kinds of projects, it may still be customers – say, those reached by a particular marketing campaign or service update – but you may need to redefine this based on context.

I = Impact. This can be quantitative or qualitative – a number of clients who converted after being reached by the campaign, for example, or an improvement in user experience based on a website redesign. Lazaro Ibanez recommends using a numeric scale in which the highest number (say, 5) represents the highest impact and vice-versa.

C = Confidence. This should be a percentage, in order to account for the respective subjectivity or objectivity of your previous two estimates. If you’re 100% confident, it means you probably have lots of data to back up your Reach and Impact estimates. A lower percentage might mean you’re basing your previous estimates on intuition rather than evidence. You’ll multiply this by the first two estimates.

E = Effort. This is the amount of work you’ll need to put in to achieve the desired Impact and Reach. It is usually measured in “person-months,” or the number of resources required for the work of one team member in one month. Because you’re dividing R x I x C by E, you can see how the higher the value of E – i.e., the more effort a task requires – the lower the Reach and Impact will be per amount of work.

When you put it all together, it should look like:

(Reach x Impact x Confidence) / Effort = RICE Score

Ideally, you would perform the RICE formula on each task you wish to prioritize. You can then rank all scores from highest number (highest impact per amount of effort) to lowest (lowest impact per amount of effort).

Increase your business agility with Clarizen’s project management software

Now, a couple of notes about the pros and cons of the RICE model for project management:

RICE is agile

RICE is agile by nature. Does this mean you can’t use it if you’re not working on Agile projects? Absolutely not! It just helps to understand the principles behind the design.

Agile is about delivering the highest quality at the fastest speed with the most efficiency. As you’ve now seen, the RICE formula is designed to measure impact by a factor of effort. Mathematically, higher effort dilutes your impact. This logic fits well within many Agile projects and may be just what you need if you’re trying to make your business more Agile. However, always consider your particular project needs.

RICE is comprehensive

The RICE model is relatively simple, but it is designed to be performed on each individual task when there is no clear hierarchy of priorities. Thus, it works well for large, complex projects in which prioritization is particularly challenging.

If you’re completing a relatively simple project – let’s say, migrating data from one software to another in a couple of batches – RICE is probably more complicated than it’s worth.

Prioritization is Easy with the Right Tools

No matter your industry or project manager skills, project management relies more than ever on good software. To find out how the Clarizen suite of project management tools can help you get work done in exactly the right order, schedule a live demo today.


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