by: James Young


“Innovation is a byproduct of empathy. Winning ideas are a byproduct of taking risks. Excellence is a byproduct of empowered cultures. Profits are the byproduct of happy customers. Success is a byproduct of mattering.” 

Bernadette Jiwa
Meaningful: The Story of Ideas that Fly

This is an article on how to prioritize ideas in a professional association. 

Associations are unique. We are volunteer-led, membership-based, and rely on committees, volunteers, dialogue, and consensus to get work done. Resources are often finite and staff is stretched. 

But we’re never short on ideas. There are always new ideas. How do we know which ones are good?

As I argued in a recent article on leverage, a product framework helps us identify and leverage underutilized value (content, events, programs, etc.) in order to extend its original intention. 

This article will focus on how to prioritize ideas in order to greenlight the ones with the best chance of success. 

The Case for Prioritization 

“You cannot be everything to everyone. If you decide to go north, you cannot go south at the same time.”

Jeroen De Flander

How does an association distinguish between opportunities and distractions?

While some associations are all things to all people (a sure recipe for frustration and limited growth), others tamp down idea flow so innovation slows to a standstill (a recipe for stagnant engagement and blunted momentum). 

Somewhere in between these polars is the strategically-focused association (if, of course, the association has invested in, committed to, and follows through on its strategy and has a unique value proposition). 

We argue that focused associations are growth associations. Focused associations invest in strategy, make choices, and develop and stick to priorities.

A prioritization framework is a tool to help us make a decision. It’s not enough to just make a decision; we need to make the right decision.

If your association can work on only a few initiatives simultaneously, how will you decide what to prioritize? We shouldn’t choose initiatives at random or prioritize the demands of the strongest voice.

We should prioritize initiatives that support an association-wide objective based on agreed-upon criteria. These three elements suggest that all associations need a prioritization framework:

  1. Initiatives (ideas, requests, mandates, etc.)
  2. Limitations (budget, capacity, capability, time, etc.)
  3. Outcomes (revenue, engagement, growth, etc) 

Effective prioritization leads to an effective roadmap, which in turn translates into three incredible things for your association: time savings, clarity and focus, and consistent, measurable outcomes. Moreover, these help us: 

  • Achieve strategic focus
  • Avoid shiny objects syndrome
  • Improve transparency
  • Build trust 
  • Use common prioritization criteria
  • Stop being all things to all people

Together, these ingredients will result in deeper and wider impact, sustained growth, enhanced engagement, greater connection. 

We also argue you’ll vastly improve your relationships with your governance bodies (board, committees, task forces, etc.). 

How does it work?

Four Prioritization Frameworks

“When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.” 

Karen Martin

Not all good ideas are good ideas. Some are better fits; others are easier to execute. What might be a good idea for one association might bomb at another. 

There are, however, many ways to prioritize ideas. These frameworks can also be used for your existing offerings (though we cover how to analyze offerings and/or product portfolio in a future article). 

Here are four of the more common prioritization frameworks (If you’re interested, here is a list of others).

  1. Eisenhower Matrix: The Eisenhower Matrix is a prioritization framework that helps you to determine which tasks you should focus on first. It consists of four quadrants, where you categorize your tasks based on their level of importance and urgency. The top-left quadrant contains important and urgent tasks that require your immediate attention, while the bottom-right quadrant consists of tasks that are neither important nor urgent, and can be postponed or eliminated.
  1. MoSCoW Method: The MoSCoW Method is a prioritization technique that helps you to prioritize requirements or tasks based on their level of importance. It involves categorizing your requirements into four groups: Must-HaveShould-HaveCould-Have, and Won’t-Have. The Must-Have items are essential and must be delivered, while the Should-Have and Could-Have items are important but can be postponed if necessary. The Won’t-Have items are low priority and can be dropped altogether.
  1. Value Complexity Quadrant: The Value Complexity Quadrant is a framework that helps you to prioritize tasks based on their value and complexity. It involves breaking down your project into smaller, manageable tasks and prioritizing them based on their importance, estimated effort, and potential impact. The aim is to focus on the tasks that will deliver the most value with the least effort, while also considering the risks and dependencies involved. The prioritization is usually done in a collaborative way, with the input of the team members and stakeholders.
  1. Rice Scoring Model: The Rice Scoring Model is a prioritization framework used to evaluate and rank potential projects or initiatives based on their expected impact and feasibility. It assigns scores to each project based on several criteria such as the potential benefits, resources required, and risk involved. The higher the score, the higher the priority for the project.In simpler terms, the Rice Scoring Model is a way to decide which projects are most important to focus on based on how much they will help and how feasible they are to complete. It’s like making a to-do list and deciding which tasks are the most important and achievable based on their value and the effort required to complete them.

Prioritization is the disciplined process of evaluating the relative importance of work, ideas, and requests to eliminate wasteful practices and deliver member value in the quickest possible way.

The reality of evaluating ideas and building products is that you can never get everything done — priorities shift, resources are reallocated, funding is scarce. As association leaders, it’s our job to make sure we’re working on the most important things. 

Product Ideation

“Sit, run, or walk, but don’t wobble.” 

Zen proverb

In today’s fast-paced world, where competition is fierce and change is unpredictable, one key to success is to get better at identifying and greenlighting new ideas. 

The ideation process allows one to come up with new ideas that can help solve problems and meet the needs of your membership. In this section, we’ll focus on one such technique called the SCAMPER Method.

SCAMPER is a creative thinking technique used in product development to generate new ideas or improve on existing ones. 

It stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. 

Let’s break it down:

  1. Substitute – Think about replacing one element with another. For example, you could substitute a traditional lecture-based workshop with a more interactive one.
  2. Combine – Consider merging two or more elements to create something new. For example, you could combine two products to create a hybrid product.
  3. Adapt – Think about how you can modify an existing product or idea to make it more suitable for a specific purpose. For example, you could adapt a research publication to a more popular applied publication using the same processes.
  4. Modify – Consider making changes to an existing product or idea to improve it. For example, you could modify the shape of a product to make it more accessible.
  5. Put to another use – Think about how you can use an existing product or idea in a new way. For example, you could use a tool designed for one purpose in a completely different part of the association.
  6. Eliminate – Consider removing elements that are not necessary or no longer useful. For example, you could eliminate a feature of a product that is not used by members.
  7. Reverse – Think about reversing the order or sequence of elements to create something new. For example, you could reverse the order of a process to make it more efficient and accessible.

By using the SCAMPER method, you can think creatively and generate new ideas. This is one of many possibilities. Others are covered in this article

The hardest part isn’t generating new ideas, it’s managing them so you build an innovative and trusting culture in which the best ideas percolate to the top.

Managing New Ideas

“There is only one thing stronger than all the armies in the world: and that is an idea whose time has come.” 

Victor Hugo

Great ideas can lead to extraordinary innovations that will excite your membership and help you leapfrog your competition. 

Bad ideas can drain your association’s morale and resources.

Properly managing ideas is a core competency of a good association. Managing ideas is not an easy task, as decisions about what and when to greenlight are not always clear.

But if you do this well, ideas and opportunities will come to you with clarity and transparency. This will contribute to a culture of trust. 

If not managed well, you run the risk of creating an ‘idea death pit’ and stakeholders may go around you. 

Here are five steps to effectively manage new ideas:

  1. Capture ideas in a transparent location
  2. Merge duplicate ideas regularly
  3. Assess new ideas against current initiatives and goals
  4. Promote ideas to your product roadmap
  5. Communicate back to the idea creator

Some final thoughts as we complete this week’s topic on prioritization. First, make it clear that prioritization isn’t the same thing as tamping down innovation. 

It’s the opposite. 

Focused prioritization – when properly and rationally implemented – serves a healthy culture and motivates the association to align together as a winning team. 

Have agreed-upon criteria, but use trust to drive decisions. 

Shared Vision + Healthy Culture = Focused Growth

“Ideas never stand alone. For most, there is no singular magical moment; instead, there are many small insights accumulated over time.”

Scott Berkun
The Myths of Innovation

To achieve focused growth, we always recommend developing a robust shared vision which (if properly devised and implemented) should help contribute to a healthy culture. 

Shared vision plus healthy culture are two central ingredients to focused, diversified growth. It’s how we create and sustain thriving associations. 

Three final thoughts on the importance of prioritization. 

  • Prioritize ruthlessly – What matters in your association? The value and the process whereby you answer this question should be an exercise in decorum, action, and transparency. Small things like making your priorities clear, visible, and communicated make your association more consistent and, over time, more focused and more innovative. 
  • Be the tortoise, not the hare – Set your aspirations high but be methodical in the way you go about achieving them. As the Aesop’s fable goes, slow, steady, consistent, and incremental wins the race. Always keep the big picture in mind, but don’t let it suffocate you. Break it into achievable goals with realistic timeframes. Insist on accountability. Then knock the goals off, one by one.
  • Put the squeeze on distractions – Distractions, in a highly distractible world, are our biggest threat. Screens, social media rabbit holes, urge to do something new, shiny objects, random ideas. There is a lot of competition for our already scattered attention. If we can’t master our distractions, they will master us. 

About the Author

James Young is founder and chief learning officer of the Product Community®. Jim is an engaging trainer and leading thinker in the worlds of associations, learning communities, and product development. Prior to starting the Product Community®, Jim served as Chief Learning Officer at both the American College of Chest Physicians and the Society of College and University Planning.