Prioritization is an essential skill for any project manager to possess. Prioritization means “to arrange items to be attended to in order of their relative importance”. With all the project scheduling software that is available, this may sound simple…just put what’s most important on the top of the list and what’s not as important at the bottom of the list. The reality, however, is very different. Competing demands, conflicts in project scheduling, limited resources, and shifting business needs make this list next to impossible to compile.
I’ve heard of small software companies that have over 70 projects going on at any moment in time! These projects ranged from paying customers, to infrastructure projects, to projects that were designed to move the strategic initiatives of the company forward. To complicate matters even more, these were all considered a Priority 1. Ludicrous!
You would have to be a master at scheduling resources for a project, working with your project scheduling software and reporting out on progress, risks and next steps to everyone involved. When asked which one was really more important, you would be greeted with the typical “they are all important”, or “they are all Number 1 priority”, or (this one always makes me laugh), “if this is a number 1, then this is a number 1a”.
This sheer volume of un-prioritized projects (saying they are all 1’s is not considered prioritization) will wreak havoc on any project scheduling and bring an organization to a grinding halt for the following reasons:
#1. Resources Become Frustrated
“Do this. No, stop, wait a second. Stop doing that and do this now. I promise this won’t change. OK. Wait…this new priority just came up. Can you put those other two things on hold and knock this out real fast?”
Unfortunately, we may have all had a conversation like this with the resources on our teams. The changing tide of business needs and prioritization that cascade from the top down many times make these conversations an unfortunate necessity.In the short-term, you may be able to eke a bit of productivity out of your resources to get these requests done. Long-term, however, is an entirely different story.
Resources (aka people) need time to ramp up, get in the zone, and let their best work flow. Every time they are interrupted by a project manager and ask to change their focus you “harsh their mellow” and bring them to a grinding halt. This costs time and money and takes a toll on their psyche if this happens time and time again.
Everybody understands interruptions every now and then. However, nobody that is worth their salt will put up with incessant interruptions and shift priorities on a regular basis. Would you? Those that are not worth their salt (lower performers) have no problem being interrupted because they are not really working on anything anyway. Pull their name up in your project schedule software and you’ll see this to be the case. Thus, in the long-term, you force out your best performers and end up with your low performers hacking their way through interruption after interruption.
#2. Quality Suffers
With your best resources gone, you now become saddled with your lower performers who are nowhere near as fastidious, detail-oriented, and conscientious as the team that just left. On the surface, it may appear that the work is getting done. You may be keeping with the project schedule on paper. They are stopping what they are doing, they are shifting gears, and they are knocking it out. But then the complaints start to surface.
These complaints will start internally at first as deliverables are handed off from department to department. “These guys don’t know what they are doing”, “This is junk”, “Do they even have a clue”, and “they messed up the project scheduling again” will be the expressions you start to hear from other departments that are reliant upon high-quality work coming through.
Similar complaints will then surface from your customers with a slightly different slant. “This isn’t doing what I thought would it do”, “I can’t believe it took this long to get this done” to the ultimate indictment of “You are not getting paid for this until it’s right”.
#3. Projects Won’t Get Delivered
As a result of the un-prioritized culture that has been created, projects won’t get delivered or will come back for rework. There’s no surprise here. Shifting priorities, people perpetually coming up to speed on what to work on, and ultimately your better resources leaving will delay, or prevent, delivery. A huge log-jam of inactivity is created that unfortunately, will clear itself out by dying a slow, all-to-common death. How do you stop this madness?
Project Scheduling Prioritization Intervention
Get the highest level executives together that can make decisions on the spot that stick. This combination of making the right decision AND having it stick is critical. Sometimes you can get people that make decisions quickly, but you know the decision will change by the time everyone pushes their chairs back to stand up. You need to have the people there that can make real decisions that will impact project schedules that will really happen.
Block about four hours of their time. Come in with an inventory of the current projects that are underway. The project management scheduling software you use should have most of the following information available. Include the name of the project, who the project sponsor is, a brief description, and key facts such as how much revenue will this project generate and if there is a strategic initiative it is supporting. That’s it. Be prepared to speak to the facts, but keep the list simple.
Then, have a column for prioritization that looks something like this:
- Of immediate benefit to the company and/or a revenue generator
- Supports a future strategic initiative of the company
- None of the above.
Then, go down item by item and rank each project. They CANNOT all be 1’s. The executives in the room will understand that and the reason why that is no longer possible to think that way. You should end up with a short list of 1’s that can you focus on immediately. A larger list of 2’s that can be queued up for future activity and a short list of 3’s…that would be good candidates to eliminate from your project scheduling software all-together.