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Use Zero-Based Prioritization to Align Projects With Shifting Customer Needs

By Michael Giblin | February 03, 2022 | 0 Comments

Marketing Leadership and Strategy

Four Steps to Zero-Based Prioritization

Shifting customer needs make some in-progress marketing projects obsolete and create the need for new initiatives. To ensure a consistently fresh marketing project portfolio, adopt a zero-based approach to project prioritization.

Zero-based prioritization enables leaders to reset their portfolio to zero by clearing all current work efforts and new requests. With all investments reduced to a zero-base, leaders then collaborate with peers to repopulate the portfolio based on new assessments of existing projects. See the four steps to executing zero-based prioritization below:


Step 1: Initiate a Quarterly Cadence

Set a regular meeting to prioritize projects based on the impact of shifted customer needs on project value. This enables the team to cut projects that are no longer relevant and, in turn, preserve bandwidth for strategic projects that better address key emerging customer needs.


Step 2: Define Criteria for Reassessing Existing Projects

Focus first on eliminating initiatives that no longer align with shifted customer needs. Marketing leaders are often reluctant to eliminate in-progress projects due to the sunk cost bias. To overcome this, reassess existing projects using criteria that values only the future benefits of a project. Focus on whether a project provides an efficient path to achieve strategic goals and is a durable driver of customer value.

Be sure to purposefully exclude the following criteria from reassessments:

  • Original business justification

  • Percentage of project complete

  • Degree of stakeholder buy-in

Setting clearly defined criteria avoids sunk cost bias by emphasizing forward-looking benefits while ignoring original value estimations or project progress measurements. 


Step 3: Set One-on-One Discussions with Project Owners

Once existing project criteria are set, interview project owners to go over the criteria and determine whether their project should be cut, paused or kept in the portfolio. It is critical that these discussions be held in a one-on-one setting. Larger group settings cause project owners to take a defensive posture, viewing themselves as tied to their projects.

Ask questions that uncover the impact of environmental changes on current project value, steering conversations to be forward-looking. Encourage project owners’ self-realization that some projects are better set aside, dispelling concerns that decisions are made due to performance or political reasons. Make cut-or-keep decisions as needed, keeping in mind that each cut project makes room for a new potential opportunity. Avoid the temptation to pause projects that should be cut.


Step 4: Screen Incoming Projects

After defining the criteria that maximizes the existing portfolio for customer value, turn your focus to preventing new project requests from consuming too many resources. To preserve capacity, pause all new project requests unless they meet all three of the following criteria:

  • Drive in-quarter revenue

  • Easy to execute

  • Expected by customers


Following these four steps ensures a fresh marketing project portfolio that’s in line with the current landscape of customer needs. Gartner clients can explore an in-depth example of the zero-based project prioritization approach in: Case Study: Aligning Projects and Programs With Shifting Customer Needs (Sealed Air).

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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