HOW SHOULD YOU PRIORITISE YOUR PRIORITIES?
It can sometimes feel like there’s always more to do than can be done. In both our personal and professional lives, we need to prioritise.
For an organisation this is even more important. An individual might be able to recall their priorities and flex them as necessary, but an organisation is made up of lots of individuals who need to corporately agree on their priorities and consider them when making decisions.
With limited resources you can’t do everything and it’s unrealistic to follow-up on every idea. Choosing our priorities helps us to decide which project to focus on first.
THE SCATTER GUN APPROACH
It can be hard to know where to start if you find yourself with too many priorities with limited, or no, logic linking them. Perhaps they even conflict, for example if you want to be profitable, and create a great customer experience, and do leading research all at once. So, we also need to prioritise our priorities.
An easy approach is to look for the highest return on investment (whether that’s money, time, reputation, or something else). Simply line up the initiatives in order of value (benefits/costs) and pick the highest returns. It doesn’t require much thinking and it’s a good strategy for an investment portfolio (provided you have a clever way to factor in risk and the reliability of your predictions).
However, it doesn’t make sense in pretty much any other context because business, and life are complex – circumstances might change from one day to the next, effort may be wasted, and you might end up back where you started!
Actually, it doesn’t make sense for an investment portfolio either because it exposes you to unknown risk. The point of an investment portfolio is to balance risk. For example, to guard against cryptocurrency going wrong, you might limit your cryptocurrency holding to 10% of the whole and invest some of your money in biotechnology or agribusiness.
So, although the ‘highest rate of return’ can be a popular approach, it’s not very useful in reality.
It’s easy to lose your way with the wrong priorities. Perhaps you decide to prioritise keeping costs low, maximizing profitable income and increasing satisfaction.
- To keep costs low – you don’t invest in research and development (don’t find next year’s products), and don’t train staff (affecting recruitment and retention, and the quality of your workers).
- To maximise profitable income – you chase after profitable product lines and drop the less profitable ones (customers don’t see your brand name).
- To increase satisfaction – you overwhelm customers with questionnaires which will always get the right answer … ‘are you neutral, happy, or ecstatic?’
Very quickly, your three priorities might begin to conflict with one another, and you’ll find yourself losing customers before you even knew that they were dissatisfied or that their tastes had changed!
Most organisations need an overriding priority which all priorities contribute to, such as ‘to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ (Google).
HIERARCHY OF PURPOSE
Once you know your single most important priority, you’re then able to prioritise all of your other priorities.
Figure: Hierarchy of Purpose by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez’s and adapted by Dr. Hugo Minney
- Purpose: what is the purpose of the organisation? Does it have a single purpose? What is the best way to deliver that purpose? Are there different ways to pursue this purpose, e.g. through Scenario Planning? What is the strategic vision?
- Priorities: given the purpose and strategic vision, what matters most? There will be long-term priorities, 2-5-year priorities, and short-term priorities, and they need to be consistent.
- Projects: once you know the priorities and the hierarchy of priorities, which projects merit investment and which projects don’t, you are in a strong position to align them to the purpose and vision. Which projects align and should be resourced, and which ones should be stopped or scrapped?
- People: some people achieve better results than others. Some are great managing individual projects but perhaps do so by diverting other project resources, whereas others take a broader view. Who are the best people to manage the projects that align to the priorities? What is the opportunity cost of putting them on one rather than another project? How can you mitigate this and achieve the best for every project?
- Performance: traditionally project performance indicators have been linked to inputs, the so-called ‘iron triangle’ of time, cost and quality. Project outputs are much easier to track than (business) outcomes, such as benefits, impacts and goals. It is the outcomes, and outcome-related targets that really matter. They demonstrate that value has been created and provide evidence of progress.
WHAT GETS MEASURED, GETS DONE
You can only enforce priorities if you measure what’s actually happening ‘on the ground’.
Admittedly, we all have our ‘pet projects’, and some people have the knack of being able to push them through whether they contribute to a priority or not. However, with appropriate standards, you can determine what contribution each initiative makes to your intermediate priorities and to your top priority and decide where to invest limited resources.
Benefits management enables you to monitor the return on investment in a wide range of initiatives and determine their contribution to the priorities you have set. You will know where and when to cut your losses or when to invest more – all of which is likely to depend on changes in your business environment.
AMPLIFY™ HELPS PRIORITISE YOUR PROJECTS WITH PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT
As corporations, companies and entire industries become project-based, the importance of aligning programs and projects with business strategy is critical. Portfolio management does this by ensuring the right initiatives are identified, prioritised, sequenced and successfully implemented, therefore maximising the creation of business value.
Amplify™ best of breed software has built-in strategy planning tools, with stage-gate approvals supporting an innovation pipeline, and a suite of capabilities for dynamic portfolio prioritisation, monitoring and analysis, providing early warning of threats to performance, insight and decision support.
With Amplify™, prioritising your priorities couldn’t be simpler.