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Using ITIL’s concepts: ten techniques to prioritize work

  • Update: 14/03/2021

In an ideal world, organizations would not need to prioritize work. There would be constant balance between demand and the organization’s resources. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world, so organizations will need to develop techniques to prioritize work.

Fortunately, ITIL 4®: Create, Deliver and Support (CDS) explores how organizations can prioritize work to co-create value and minimize the costs and risks associated with delayed work.

10 prioritization techniques

1) Resource availability or priority

Work is prioritized based on the availability of resources. For example, if an infrastructure support team has one networking specialist that every network support case is assigned to, then the team should prioritize non-network-related cases whenever the network specialist is occupied.

2) Current workload

Work is prioritized based on the current workload of the resource, provided there are no differences in quality between resources or variations in the sizes of work items. For example, support centre automation might assign incoming calls or chats to support agents who are not currently engaged with a user, or to agents with smaller workloads.

3) Age of work

Work is prioritized based on the age of work items. For example, by a first-in, first-out method where the oldest waiting item is actioned, or by a last-in, first-out method where the newest waiting item is actioned.

4) Duration

Work is prioritized based on the time required to complete work items. For example, the shortest item first, which is where the item that can be completed the quickest is actioned next.

5) Economic or financial factors

Work is prioritized based on the monetary benefits and costs of work items. For example, an organization that has the capacity to process just one work item is likely to prioritize the item that has the highest economic benefit, such as that which earns most revenue, has the highest financial impact, or has the highest return on investment.

6) Economic penalties

Work is prioritized based on the economic penalty, such as a compliance feature that will reduce a regulatory fine.

7) Source or type of demand

Work items are prioritized based on those items that require immediate attention, such as a request from the CIO of an organization. Usually, organizations create levels of entitlement (and set prices accordingly). For example, technology vendors and support service providers may implement a tier-based system in which silver-tier customers are prioritized over bronze-tier customers.

8) Triage

Work is prioritized based on urgency (the impact that a delay may cause). For example, a doctor would prioritize treating a broken bone over a cold. Less urgent needs are only considered when more urgent needs have been addressed. Organizations should supplement this technique with procedures to ensure that low-priority work is not left unattended.

9) Cost of delay method

Work is prioritized based on its economic impact or penalty over time.

10) Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) method 

Work is prioritized based on the cost of delay and the duration of the work.

These are some of the methods that can be applied to prioritize work. Each organization will need to discover which technique, or combination of techniques, works for their organization. Remember, that what works in one environment may not work in another.

For example, a development team may decide to prioritize work based on its economic or financial factors, as delaying a new release will impact the organization’s profits. However, the work of the service desk doesn’t directly affect the organization’s profits, but instead affects it due to time lost when something isn’t working. Therefore, the triage approach may be more suitable for the service desk team.

News by Solmaz Purser - Project Editor, AXELOS

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