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Being Good at Prioritizing is More Important Than Working Hard

No matter who you work for or how big your projects, knowing what to tackle first when you’ve got lots of balls in the air is tough for any project manager.

Project prioritization gives an easy-to-follow plan for the work that needs to be done, while also setting clear expectations. 

However, estimating return on investment, applying resource constraints such as dependencies, timelines, and team composition can sound like a lot of work.  “What should my team focus on?” and similar conversations can seem rigorous.

Although answering this question may require rigour, the process is not at all complicated!

How Useful Are Prioritization Exercises?

We recently facilitated a strategic planning process for an organization. The organization was overwhelmed with the amount of strategic initiatives, so we did a prioritization exercise. 

Prioritization exercises can come in many forms; simple frameworks such as a the “Hierarchy of Purpose”, Impact and Effort matrix”, “MoSCow Method”, prove to be simple yet highly effective methods for prioritizing. 

For this particular organization, we used a simple method of categorizing the projects into buckets labeled “Essential, “Important”, and “Nice to Have”. Essential included activities and projects that would differentiate the organization from its competitors, Important were projects that provided value, and “Nice to have” were projects that the company could outsource or do if they had extra time and budget.

After this exercise, the organization was able to increase the success rate of strategic projects and plans, increase alignment and focus, clear all doubts for the operational teams when faced with decisions, and, most important, build an execution mindset and culture.

Prioritization at a strategic and operational level is often the difference between success and failure. But many organizations do it badly.

The More Focused, The Better

The problem we often see is that leaders do not make decisions at all. They do not clearly signal their intent about what matters. In short, they do not prioritize.

Companies that start prioritizing can experience significant reductions in costs because less-vital activities are cut and duplicated efforts are consolidated.

There are a number of reasons why management has a generous portfolio of priorities; they don’t want to take the risk of not being compliant or miss a market opportunity. In my experience, the most successful executives tend to take more risks and have a laser-like focus on a small number of priorities. These executives know what matters today and tomorrow. At the extreme, this might mean simply having a single priority. The more focused, the better.

The Process

Think of your organization’s priorities. Are all of your diverse activities prioritized in the best interests of the organization as a whole? What is the best use of the organization’s existing and future financial and operational capacities? Are they aligned with where your organization wants to go? How would your priorities change in case of a sudden change in the internal or external environment (i.e.: COVID-19)? 

A well-communicated sense of organizational priorities helps to align most of the projects and programs in an organization to its strategies. But the reality of an organization is much more complex than many suggest. 

Sometimes the strategic objectives are not clear or are nonexistent. Often there is a gap and lack of alignment between the corporate strategic objectives and the ones from the different business units, departments, or functions.

Final Thoughts

Too many priorities can leave organizational members confused and unfocused and waste valuable resources.  Priorities change and, if managed successfully, have the capacity to fundamentally change organizations, but only if top management makes choices and have tough discussions that will direct focus.

Contact us today to ensure that at least the most important projects and programs are executed and fully aligned with the strategic objectives.

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