Merriam Webster defines it as A thing that is regarded as more important than another, a subtle change from the original intent of the word that could be expressed as THE thing that is regarded as more important than ANY other. A happy little Google search will illustrate that the plural of priority did not register in common vernacular until the 1940’s when suddenly we, as a society, decided that putting just one thing at the top of the list was simply not ambitious enough. So was born the multi-priority juggling act and the art of multi-tasking at the highest level.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Every company, regardless of size, is multi-faceted and needs to drive multiple initiatives. Even as a consultant with a micro-business, I have competing projects and tasks that bubble up to the top of my list. The problem is when you (or the company) are unable to identify which one belongs at the very top of the list with everything else lined-up behind it. When that happens, multiple priorities and their champions must jockey for resources and funding, undermining the chances of any project/goal/initiative getting the attention it needs to be successful. It also results in goals and initiatives that take far longer and cost much more than they should before success is realized, if they reach success at all.
A classic example from my history book involved a company trying to understand why a key project was not moving forward at the pace expected. When we dug into it, turned out they had more than 200 active projects they were working on! Worse, most projects required the talent and skills of a limited pool of employees, many of whom had been putting in crazy hours for more than a year! With a bit of work, we whittled the 200+ list down to a much more reasonable number, with many projects being terminated completely. Further, the project that was the cause of the original concern did in fact rank as THE PRIORITY and quickly got back on track once the needed resources were redirected. All remaining projects were ranked and put into a queue to be addressed later. We accomplished this with a single workshop and a few follow-up meetings using a Priority Matrix.
A Priority Matrix is a great management tool that should be in every manager and business owner's toolkit. It provides an easy way to figure out how to get the biggest bang for the effort spent. The process can be applied to nearly every situation, and examples abound on the internet. If you are new to the concept, or just forgot about this little gem, and are struggling with competing priorities, it may be time to give it a try.
Multiple priorities are a reality of today’s environment, and no business has unlimited resources. You can choose to move 100 things 1 mile and never check anything off the list, or you can move 1 thing 100 miles to cross the finish line. Regardless of whether your company is big, small or micro, you MUST go beyond simply identifying priorities to finding THE PRIORITY to focus on today!
Alaska Strategy Week! 2020