The PICK Chart: A Simple Tool for Prioritizing Improvement Projects

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My lean mentor introduced me to the PICK chart the first time I implemented the value stream mapping method. If you're interested in learning more about value stream mapping, check out the following links to my other blog posts:

During VSM, the improvement team develops an improvement plan which requires creating and prioritizing a list of improvement projects. The simplicity of the PICK chart made this step easy and has become my go-to tool when prioritizing tasks.

What is a PICK chart?

The PICK chart is a simple 2x2 grid that helps prioritize projects based on difficulty and pay-off. You would use a PICK chart when you and the team have a list and, because we all have limited time and resources, need to decide which projects to take on.

As a team leader, I like to frame the PICK chart exercise with these two questions:

  • For this project, how much effort will this take?
  • What kind of impact do we think this project will have?

The answers to these questions are either "high" or "low," and these two responses for the two questions form the basis of the PICK chart grid:

Image of a PICK chart.

Each quadrant has its own title (Possible, Implement, Challenge, Kill) and these titles form the acronym of PICK. (For a long time, I mistakenly thought that PICK was a synonym for "select." Rookie mistake.) Each of the colored blocks in the chart represents a sticky note with the title of the project.

How does it work?

A prerequisite for the exercise is the team's list of projects under consideration. Of course, they are unordered and should be written as an individual note. The sticky note pads are ideal because they are easy to place and move projects around the PICK chart.

With the "pile" of projects and a blank PICK chart built, the team's task is to place each project idea into one of the quadrants based on effort (difficulty level) and impact (potential pay-off). Here are descriptions of each quadrant along with discussion points you could have with your team in this prioritization exercise.

Possible: Low effort, low impact

These are projects that are easy to do, yet have a low pay-off in results to your company. Projects that are "possible" are tempting to take on because of an easy win, but in the end won't make much of a difference.

"Possible" is synonymous with "maybe." Have an eye on the final impact of the project; if the impact will be low, place the project in this bin and move on to the next project.

Implement: Low effort, high impact

These projects are the no-brainers of the pile of projects: They are easy to do and have a clear (and high) pay-off for the company or group. I prefer to call this quadrant "just do it" (or JDI) as it reinforces to the group the two characteristics of easiness in implementing and high impact of the results.

Challenge: High effort, high impact

Challenging projects are where I've found most of the discussion in PICK charting, and, ultimately, where most of the effort in improvements take place. I've found that these "Challenge" projects have higher impact than those in the "Just do it" quadrant because the team needs to take on significant change to implement the project. The necessity for change is what makes these projects high effort.

There's often reluctance to take on these types of projects because of the effort needed, but stay focused on impact. If you are able to guide the discussion on the potential (high) pay-off of these projects, the reluctant team members always come around to support taking on this work to improve the company.

Kill: High effort, low impact

This is the opposite no-brainer to the "just do it" projects. This type of work will be difficult to implement and simply have low or no pay-off. Place these projects in the "Kill" bin and move on quickly. In practice, I've had very few projects end up in this bin.

Why does PICK charting work?

PICK charting has been a "go-to" method for me because of its simplicity. I ask the team to rate on only two characteristics (effort and impact) and then ask to rate the project based on "high" or "low."

It's the simplicity of the concept that lets the team get to work quickly and see immediate results. Because a PICK chart is a visual tool, your team sees how their feedback plays into the charting method after just one or two project discussions. As you work through the exercise, people can see the improvement plan taking shape and the team's path forward.

Final thoughts

As with any results from your improvement projects, be sure to digitize the outcomes from the PICK chart exercise. Taking a photo of the chart is okay to do, but better yet, recreate the results digitally. For most, MS PowerPoint or Keynote for Mac users is the easiest way, but I did discover excel templates that you could use and I've put some links in the resources section down below.

In addition, notice how none of the project ideas in the PICK chart illustration straddle any of the quadrants. If there are borderline projects, as the team leader or facilitator, force the team onto one side of the line or the other. Don't allow the team in avoiding a decision. Make a choice and, if there's time, return to the problematic projects later in the exercise.

Finally, don't forget the original purpose behind PICK charting: Creating a priority list of the projects for the team to go after. Once prioritized, assign each project to a leader, creates measurable goals for each project, and document deadlines or milestones. Re-title the list with something like "Strategic Improvement Plan" or "Company X Transformation Plan" and congrats, you now have a plan for action!


As always, I like to end my post with useful resources if you'd like to read further on the topic of PICK charting.

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