Tips for determining cybersecurity project priority

If you are a cybersecurity professional, you’ve almost certainly at some point felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of security issues you were expected to tackle within the same, limited timeframe. Without a deliberate, well-thought-out approach to cybersecurity project priority, you run the risk of ignoring critical risks and failing to achieve anything at all. You will also be creating plenty of unnecessary work for yourself and the rest of the cybersecurity team.

All this does not bode well for your organization’s ability to withstand or overcome a cyberattack. For quicker, better, and more robust cyber-protection, establishing cybersecurity project priority is essential. Here is how to do it.

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1. Understand the organization’s strategic level goals

Cybersecurity project priority must be founded on the organization’s overarching strategic goals. Take time to understand the vision and strategic direction. Fortunately, these are documents that do not frequently change, so it is mainly the first time you do it that it will take plenty of time.

Delve into details of what the organization is about. The strategic goals will guide portfolios, programs, and projects. They form a blueprint that not only defines your desired cybersecurity destination but also markers along the way that confirm you are moving in the right direction.

Once you are well versed with strategic goals, have a conversation with management to obtain their input on any projects they would want to give the highest priority.

2. Identify the reason for each project

Cybersecurity projects may be driven by various factors. While they all ultimately aim to mitigate cybersecurity risks, the projects do not necessarily have the same security objective.

Is it an upgrade to a security system? Is it a cybersecurity training and awareness campaign? Is it cybersecurity risk assessment of critical vendors? Is it meant to streamline cybersecurity costs? Is it geared to complying with new laws and regulations? Is it disaster recovery strategies and plans?

The project’s objective should determine how high up it should be on your cybersecurity project priority list. For example, compliance with new regulations should be a high-priority project since it may have implications on the organization’s very ability to operate.

3. Analyze value

It is not always easy to directly tie cybersecurity processes to a business’s bottom line. However, you can assess the value each project brings, especially its impact on customers, employees, and other key stakeholders.

Will the project make things easier for employees or customers? Will it create better workflows and automate processes? Will it make everyday office life less of a burden for staff? Will it conclusively resolve a recurring problem?

The greater the value the project brings, the higher the priority it should be given.

4. Gauge urgency

You must gauge the urgency of each cybersecurity project. A good way to determine urgency is to evaluate whether the project is meant to keep the business on track or if it can be delayed to a later time.

Note that urgency is not necessarily indicative of importance but rather time sensitivity. For example, cybersecurity projects relating to data backups and disaster recovery may have great urgency even though they may not be the most important.

Project urgency is not static all year. Urgency changes — it is based on a myriad of factors, such as market developments, regulatory requirements, and emerging business risks.

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5. Determine factors impacting project success

Each project will have certain factors that will determine whether it will be successful. These factors include available resources, budgeted funds, return on investment (ROI), dependencies, limitations, and timing. Organization budgets are finite — it is not possible for you to take on all projects.

Some projects may depend on the outcomes of other current or future projects. There may also be factors beyond the organization’s control that could hamper the success of the project. Such projects with a low likelihood of success should be put off until later, when circumstances are more conducive.

6. Develop a cybersecurity project priority matrix

After gathering relevant information on strategic goals, project objectives, and the the likelihood of project success, create a prioritization matrix. This should identify and rate the cybersecurity projects by these criteria.

Use a weighted rating scale for each criterion, such as assigning 1-5 based on how each project scores. Come up with an overall rating for each project that then forms the basis for evaluating and prioritizing the projects.

7. Assess your capacity

Prioritizing cybersecurity projects does not imply you can now execute all high-priority projects. Projects are, by definition, one-off undertakings that end when the goal is achieved. They often have two or more team members, each of whom has their own non-project routine day-to-day responsibilities to deal with. You, therefore, have a finite capacity for projects.

Determine what your current bandwidth is and establish how many projects you can run in this context. At this point, you could use the time it takes to complete a project as a factor. You may, for instance, opt to pay attention to smaller, quicker projects first and leave the larger, lengthier ones for later. The reverse could also work.

8. Management review


The project ranking emerging out of the prioritization matrix does not necessarily mark the end of project decision-making. Before initiating the projects, you have to have a final sit down with management and share your findings. They have the opportunity to provide their thoughts on whether they agree with the ranking. This ensures everyone is on the same page.

You may obtain fresh insights that could very well change the ranking of some projects. Once you have shared this with them, you now have the green light to commence the projects.

9. Remain flexible

Determining cybersecurity project priority is, by nature, a continuous process. At the end of 2019, maybe your organization’s primary cybersecurity priority was a risk assessment of critical vendors. Yet, by the end of the first quarter of 2020, the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic may have pushed remote work to the fore of cybersecurity concerns.

Things can change at a moment’s notice. You cannot afford rigid conformity to your project priority list. Be prepared to amend the list midstream in line with evolving realities of the operating environment. You have to bend if you do not want the circumstances to break you.

Establishing cybersecurity project priority is good business sense

Prioritizing cybersecurity projects is no small task. If you do succeed at effective prioritization, you have a better shot at moving your organization forward, assisting with time management, easing budgeting questions, and safeguarding your enterprise from cyber threats. To ensure your staff is tackling the most important cybersecurity tasks at any given moment, apply the prioritization tips covered here.

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