Five Tips to Eliminate the Prioritization Limitation

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When in turn-around situations, helping struggling projects or IT department malaise,  common pain points include late delivery, poor quality, insufficient resources. And the common root cause is poor prioritization – too much is critical or important, which means nothing is critical or important.

One of the data sets I often gather in my work with companies is an inventory of projects – along with relevant data about start, end, budget, resources, plan. In every – and I truly mean every – situation, it becomes apparent many organizations are trying to drive from Boston to Atlanta on one tank of gas, two granola bars and a handful of loose change.

True, actionable prioritization is an under-rated skillset. Here’s some tips to get started:

  1. Inform the future with the past. Inventory current and past projects. Look at the amount and % that did not meet time, budget, scope or quality expectations. If your organization keeps using the same planning and prioritization process (or lack thereof), the results aren’t going to get any better.
  2. Know capacity. As the saying goes, you have to go to war with the army you’ve got. The resources you have are the resources you have. A critical data point is solid understanding of the people and dollars and to what they can be applied based on skillset and allocation. A recent example was an organization of 40+ business analysts paired with about a dozen developers. The analysts were producing more requests and requirements than the developers could possibly produce.
  3. Increase capacity. Just as a tuned engine improves gas mileage, a tuned organization improves velocity and quality. Today’s output of an IT organization should not be static (in fact if it remains static, it’s decreasing).  If properly applied, continuous improvement and lean management systems can have material results. Quick tips for increasing capacity: 1) look for & eliminate bottlenecks (the person that has to be on every project); these signal critical capability shortages and 2) “arms and legs syndrome” where people are split up between multiple projects; this signals trying to do too much at once – pushing dozens of projects into delays or quality issues, rather than delivering value through a prioritized set.PrioritizationJourney
  4. Do what is important – and not anything else. This is the most difficult hurdle to get over for leaders. Don’t create lists of hundreds of projects and put them in queue. Do identify and deliver the top items, and when finished, identify and deliver the top items. This doesn’t mean do the “Top 10,” then move onto the next ten.  It means do the “Top 10,” then figure out the new “Top 10.” Because the opportunities and challenges in the marketplace are not static.
  5. Know your importance formula. Every company and organization is “n of 1.” Benchmark and competitor’s strategies are data points that help inform. However, your market, your mission, your resources are unique to you. There are no cookie cutters or silver bullets. You have to do the hard work of figuring out the prioritization formula and rubric that leads to your best – and ongoing – “Top 10.”

Don’t let your leadership eyes get bigger than your organization’s stomachs. Trying to do 100 things at once means few get done, and even fewer get done well. Place value on identifying the true top priorities, and get the value delivered.

“The role of leadership is to transform the complex situation into small pieces and prioritize them.” Carlos Ghosn






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