Priorities or Priority?

Setting and managing priorities is something I struggle with.  New ideas, customer inquiries, and opportunities present themselves and may create a spark to start new projects.  New opportunities are vital to a company’s growth but chasing new opportunities can sap resources.  It takes guts to be disciplined and focused to keep project teams on the right path.

If resources are assigned to a project, they should be protected to continue doing their work.  New resources should be assigned to explore a new opportunity.  If the opportunity merits greater attention, then it makes sense to pull resources off a current project to work on the new one.  The company needs to be aligned with the shift of resources so everyone understands the impact of the change.  Business is fluid so it’s critical to constantly assess if resources are being used appropriately. 

If left uncontrolled, adding new projects to the pile of work can cause employees to suffer increased stress and possible burnout.  A team member may be overwhelmed with what to work on next if everything is classified as “hot”.  A project manager’s role is to guide the team members to work on the tasks per the project plan and schedule.  A project manager also has to negotiate resources with senior management.  This is easier said than done.

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So how do we attack this problem?

One idea is to use Prioritize and Execute from Jocko Willink’s book Extreme OwnershipPrioritize and Execute is a deceptively simple phrase but it’s extremely powerful.  Work on the most important task first, execute, then move on the next most important task.  This is a great strategy to get out of firefighting mode till the smoke clears. 

If your company uses OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), don’t work on things not tied to your department’s OKRs.  OKRs are the guiding force that unite the company. More importantly, they help filter the nonsense.  Read John Doerr’s book, Measure What Matters, for more about OKRs.

One of my favorite books on this topic is The One Thing by Gary Keller.  He asks the Focusing Question, “What is the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”  This Focusing Question can be asked at any time to help highlight what is most critical.  This can be discussed with a project team to get everyone back on track or to help members see through the clutter.  It’s easy for us to think we can multitask and classify everything as “high priority”.  Not every company has the luxury to assign additional resources at will so keeping the Focusing Question front and center is a smart strategy.

Another mental trick is to think about the word Priority versus Priorities. Even though there may be competing Priorities, there should only be one Priority.

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