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How to Prioritize, Military-Style (Part II)

By Alyssa Gregory

priorityYesterday, I wrote about my challenges with visual prioritization and how my lack of a useful system causes me unnecessary stress and frustration. I came across a series of posts on Giajinass, and was inspired to see how the CARVER Matrix, a military-based tactical assessment technique, could help me improve my own prioritization process, particularly in how I manage the visual side of my task list.

So, continuing on from yesterday, I’m going to redefine the six factors that make up the CARVER Matrix so they make more sense in this application, grab a few of my open tasks, and work on developing a new system of prioritization.

CARVER Defined for Prioritization

The acronym, CARVER, stands for Criticality, Accessibility, Recuperability, Vulnerability, Effect and Recognizability. You can see the complete military explanation of each of these factors here.

For our purposes, we will be using the CARVER Matrix to identify the most important priorities on my list, so this is how I will define each of the CARVER factors:

Criticality – What is the level of significance for the task? What would be the internal and external consequences if the task objectives were not met on time? How important is it? A high score means the task is more critical.

Accessibility – Does it make sense to do this task now, especially when considered in relation to other situational elements? A high score means that completing the task soon is desirable.

Return – Following the process Giajinass used, I will replace Recuperability with Return. What will completion of the task help you acquire? How do you measure the value of the completed task? A high score means there are significant gains in store for completing the task.

Vulnerability – How much work/time/effort will you have to expend to get the task done? Will you be able to complete it without investing significant time/money? A high score means the task requires little effort/investment to accomplish.

Effect – What impact will the completed task have on your life (or your business) and the lives of those around you? A high score means the task can precipitate a desirable outcome once completed.

Recognizability – Is it possible to complete the task effectively with the information/tools/resources you have available to you? Will you be able to complete it without locating specific information you currently do not have?

A high score means you have a solid understanding of the task and will not need to do much background research or extra work to get it done.

Assessing the “Threats”

I took five of my tasks from my list, put them in the matrix below and assigned a value to each element. To give you an understanding of my situational objectives, I am a busy entrepreneur, freelance writer and mom who has a number of personal projects in the works with the main goals of facilitating knowledge sharing, creating collaborative environments and increasing the long-term income-generating potential.

Among my values are promptness, excellence, creativity, family and respect. And my goal is to get as much accomplished as possible – reducing my task list – as quickly as I can to the best of my ability.

I am using a 1-5 ranking scale based on the situation outlined above.

Task C A R V E R TOTAL
Setup a LinkedIn profile for Client A 3 4 3 3 4 3 20
Create Facebook fan page for Client B 5 5 3 2 5 5 25
Write SBIG post for Thursday 3 5 3 3 4 3 21
Create ad for VA Hub 5 4 5 4 4 5 27
Mail birthday card to my brother 2 3 1 5 2 5 18

In looking at my totals, I was somewhat surprised to see that it does reflect what I know to be my true priorities. For example, my brother’s birthday isn’t for a few weeks and in relation to the other tasks on my list, it is obviously not as important. Writing a post for my personal blog is important, but I already have it partially completed and it won’t be published until tomorrow anyway. Creating an ad for one of my web sites is very important because I already paid for the ad slot and the submission deadline is tomorrow.

Relating It Back

In the last step, I will take these tasks and use their CARVER values to create a more accurate visual prioritization for my project management software.

Low = Less than 20 = OK to let it slide a couple of days

Normal = 20-22 = OK to let it slide until tomorrow

Major = 23-25 = Has to get done at some point today

Showstopper = 26 and up = Do it now, right now

As I mentioned in my last post, prioritization is a very individual process and can even change on a daily basis as your immediate needs change. But I can certainly see how beginning to use this system will be more effective at identifying what my priorities are and make clearer at a glance. I’m going to go through the rest of my tasks and do a quick assessment to figure out the “real” priority so I can classify it accurately, hopefully reducing the anxiety I feel every time I look at my list.

Do you think you would find value in using the CARVER Matrix to prioritize? Are you going to give it a try?

Image credit: nickobec

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  • Gaijinass

    Alyssa,

    Cheers! Good job and I love the way you re-evaluated the totals from the decision making matrix at the end in terms that make immediate and practical sense to you.

    Keep up all this great work

    Eric
    (Gaijinass)

  • http://www.avertua.com Alyssa Gregory

    Thanks for your feedback, Eric. And thanks for the inspiration! I can see even more areas where CARVER could apply to process management and decision-making. There might be more from me on this in the future!

  • hbw

    I use a similar method. I give all my projects a score from 1 – 10 based on 2 criteria: 1) revenue, and 2) enjoyment. In order to make it on high on my priority list the project has to be both revenue generating (now, not in the future) and enjoyable. The results can be very illuminating.

    Barbra from BioTemplates.com

  • http://www.virvo.com Web-Development

    prioritization and organization – although necessary – is essentially an ‘overhead’. Dont you think using the CARVER system just to identify priority wastes too much time – time that could be spent actually doing the tasks? I dunno, I just dont think I could spend this sort time just for organization, I would never get anything done.

  • http://www.avertua.com Alyssa Gregory

    @Web-Development – I can see your point, especially when I consider the time it took to apply the matrix to my own tasks and then back into my PM software.

    But, I think if you do the exercise once, it can add tremendous clarity to your priorities. For example, I can use the matrix when I’m not sure what to tackle first (and it will be much quicker the second and third time around), or I can use my definitions that I got at the end to quickly assess where tasks should fall. The verdict for me will be in seeing how much help it really provides over the next few weeks/months, I think.

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