Sam Decker's
priority tool

Sam Decker is a digital entrepreneur, marketing heavyweight, and the founder of digital optimization wizards Clearhead.

Years ago, when he was working as Dell's website manager, he hired conversion optimization guru Bryan Eisenberg to analyze that site and make recommendations for improvement.

His review completed, Eisenberg handed Decker a 75-page report of recommended changes.

Decker’s response: “Okay. Well, go fix it.” But as Eisenberg recalls, the consulting team couldn’t just go "do" 75 pages of fixes. They needed a priority roadmap including where to start.

Decker then came up with this simple but effective tool for prioritizing website projects. If you're a small business or nonprofit looking to move beyond the "debate and confer" method of project prioritization, this is a good place to start.

Create a grid with a column listing the potential changes. Then score each item according to Time, Business Impact, and Resources required. Use a scale of 1-5 for each parameter (1 being the worst, 5 being the best).

Who participates in identifying customer problems to solve (projects)? "Only employees who know what your customers want, which projects best meet those needs, and the relative impact of those projects on the challenges at hand—not to mention the bottom line—should participate in the creation of the spreadsheet," explains Decker. That advice is actually part of Clearhead's Problem Solution Mapping methodology, but it applies equally to this simple priority tool.

Time: This is an assessment based on days to execute + time until impact can be noticed.

Business Impact: Magnitude. (Will the proposed change affect a big micro-funnel, a small one? Will it affect many segments, a few segments? Is it expected to result in a significant positive change or a tiny change?) (5 = most impact, 1 = lowest a/k/a least impact.)

Resources: How many of your resources will enacting the change take + do you have them available? [E.g. Changing a word on a checkout button (Resource score: 5), vs. taking a whole team to rewrite something significant (Resources score: 1, or “worst”).]

Once the proposed projects have been scored, multiply each row and prioritize items with the highest total value. (You could use a scale of 1 - 10; I prefer 1 - 5)

In the example below I've assigned arbitrary scores to 4 undefined projects; the purpose of the chart is to display layout and give an example of how the scoring works.


Note: This can also help boost the corporate ‘metabolism’, i.e. going increasingly faster from “light-bulb” to “live.” Also relevant to metabolism: decision-making should be pushed as far down the chain as it can be, not as far up as it can be. The latter results in “hippos”the highest-paid person making digital decisions, often with poor outcomes.


Next steps

Fast-forward from this past snapshot of Sam Decker's work at Dell to his remarkable work as a co-founder at Clearhead. In particular, check out their Problem-Solution Mapping methodology

You'll eventually want to arrive at the place where team member are required to have hard data to back up the rationale and potential impact of any proposed projects. 

Team members should be prepared to use data to answer these questions: 

1. What is the total opportunity? 

2. Can we justify the resources required for execution? 

3. What are the projected results? 


Related reading

Google's Analytics Evangelist Explains Why Websites Suck
"Hippos" often make poor decisions because they tend to be the most removed from customers, says Avinash Kaushik in this classic AdAge interview. (For a definition of the popular term "HiPPOs" read point #5 in Kaushik's blog post "Seven Steps to Creating a Data-Driven Decision Making Culture.")