After talking to a bunch of users I feel compelled to write this post on getting real about prioritization.

Folks, saying project A is higher priority than project B but you’re doing B first is ridiculous.

Project A may be more important than project B.

Project A may be of more value than project B.

But by definition, the one that you are doing first (in this example project B) has higher priority. That’s what priority means, you do it prior to anything else.

SM NullThe problem seems to come from getting value and importance confused with priority. We like to think that we should be working on the highest value, important things first. That they should “take priority”. But let’s look at what happens when we blindly follow this rule…

Project Apple is a pretty important project and his manager Betty wants to make sure it gets done right away because it is “top priority”. She assigns the project to her rock star employee Abe. Abe starts work on Project Apple and 5 weeks later is about 1 week away from being done.

Betty then goes to a business strategy meeting where they determine that over the next few months the business needs more Bananas. Indeed, Project Banana is now more important than Project Apple.

Betty runs back to Abe and tells him that Project Banana is “top priority”. So Abe stops work on Project Apple and starts work on Project Banana. He’s making good progress and after a month is about done with Project Banana.

Betty meets with her manager to give him a status report on Project Banana. He thinks the company needs more cantaloupe…

Yeah, okay… it’s a little contrived. But you get the idea. With constant interruptions like that nothing ever gets completed. Since business value is typically realized after a project is completed, Abe is doing a bunch of work that is delivering no business value despite the fact that at any given time he is working on the “top priority” project.

So what went wrong?

Well, that’s what happens when you confuse importance with priority. If you want to see a fairly detailed discussion of why seeing projects through to the end, one at a time, without interruption gets you more business value in the long run even if you do the least valuable ones first, see my article on Multi-Tasking.

The reason this keeps coming up with customers is that LiquidPlanner forces you to prioritize your work. Our scheduling engine starts at the top of your priority list and works its way down, flowing the schedule out onto the calendar as it goes. If you want something done sooner, just move it up in the priority list and it will get scheduled prior to the things below it. But be aware, it will push out the dates for the things below it. That is the nature of making priority trade-offs.

But a lot of people want to say “this is top priority, but do that first.” Doing that is just fooling yourself. It does a disservice to your business, your employees, and yourself.

Understanding this should be your top priority. 🙂

Prioritizing for Real was last modified: June 27th, 2013 by Bruce Henry