Prioritization

Why Prioritization is Crucial and How To Do It

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Recently, I've seen some organizations attempt to justify why lean process design and operational excellence can eliminate the need to prioritize. Their rationale is: If we do things faster and better, we can do it all! Why waste time prioritizing!?

I'm reminded of management guru Peter Drucker's statement, "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." Or if you prefer a more pop culture spin, look no further than Alanis Morissette's line in "Mary Jane" when she sang, "Well it's full speed baby... in the wrong direction."

In The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, I introduce a framework I call The Capacity Quadrant. At a high level, the four areas of excellence that lead to effective capacity planning are:

  • Visibility - Seeing the big picture of demand and capacity

  • Prioritization - Understanding which work is most important

  • Optimization - Making the most efficient use of your resources

  • Integration - Instituting multiple levels of planning to align the organization

Collectively, these areas operate in synergistic fashion. After all, it's hard to prioritize if you don't have the full picture of demand. It's hard to optimize your resources if you're not sure which work carries the most value, or what your true capacity vs demand picture looks like. And none of it is sustainable without the planning models in place to assure projects and people are aligned with current strategy and that high value items have the resources they need. 

Is it good to have lean processes? Absolutely! But don't be misled into thinking this supersedes the need to prioritize. 

As for HOW to prioritize, generally I've seen a variety of methods, often with several used in combination:

  • Composite, weighted Benefits/Risk score (this includes intagible benefits)

  • Financial Indicator (such as NPV)

  • Subjective priority (e.g., from a SME or process owner)

  • Strategic Alignment (e.g., alignment to specific strategies, business units etc.)

  • Urgency/Importance score

Common benefits cited in the benefits/risk score are:

  • Regulatory/Contractual (mandatory work would garner a high score here)

  • Strategic Alignment and Importance – including both the degree of alignment (strong fit vs. weak) and level of impact to business

  • Financial Return/Profitability

  • Competitive Advantage

  • Business Operations (e.g., efficiency, responsiveness, reliability)

  • Probability of Commercial Success

  • Strategic Leverage (e.g., can spawn other products, not easily copied by others, long market life, etc.)

Typical risk areas to include are:

  • Technical Complexity

  • Program Complexity (e.g., number of stakeholders, use of outside vendors, use of offshore resources, number of intra and inter-program dependencies, extent of organizational or geographic reach, processes impacted, etc.)

  • Existing Skill Base

  • Availability of people and facilities

Using some combination of these methods as input, you can then assign a priority. Note that prioritization and ranking are two different things. The ultimate priority assigned, based on some combination of the above methods, is best as a priority "band" or grouping. I typically see 1-n ranking as only being effective for a competing subset of projects in a portfolio. Depending on the nature of your organization, it's often counterproductive to attempt to force rank the entire portfolio and keep it current.

For more on prioritization, see my other blog post on this: Top Considerations for Project Prioritization.

Well, there you have it, the whys and hows of prioritization. I'd love to hear from you. What works well in YOUR organization?


PS: Stay tuned for new about an upcoming webinar on the Capacity Quadrant model, which can be applied independently of any software. 


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Top Considerations for Project Prioritization

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The Forbes Technology Council has a nice little article, Project Prioritization 101, that highlights ten key elements of any good prioritization model. Here are the first five (I've paraphrased):

  1. Align with business strategy - Be sure your projects align with business goals and strategies

  2. Rank projects based on impact and effort (aim to do the impactful ones, discard the rest)

  3. Anticipate setbacks and assess potential losses (it helps if you assess resource needs and have a contingency plan in advance)

  4. Attack time-sensitive and highest impact projects first

  5. Understand your team's bandwidth

On that last topic, which is near and dear to my heart, the article quotes Zohar Dayan, CEO of Wibbitz, who says:

"When it comes to prioritization, the biggest consideration is to measure the impact of a project versus the time and resources that need to be devoted to it. A firm understanding of the value each project brings back to your company coupled with a knowledge of your team’s bandwidth is crucial for prioritization."

I couldn't have said it better. To this , I’d add that Success = Prioritization + Resource Allocation + Execution.

Back to prioritization, I’ve also seen organizations adopt the Eisenhower Matrix (later popularized by Stephen Covey), where projects are categorized based on urgency and importance. Obviously, things that are urgent and important should get done first. Projects that are important, but not urgent, should be scheduled accordingly.

The tricky ones are those that are deemed urgent, but not important. This either means someone has exaggerated the urgency or was unable to articulate its importance. So it’s a matter of determining which it is. And of course, the last category are those that are non-urgent and unimportant, which should be quickly rejected.

Some industries have a rigorous project acceptance process whereby all approved projects are by default highly important and thus use a FIFO (First in, First Out) approach to ranking. Though, with increasingly common resource constraints, this is a weak method in and of itself., and would benefit from a relative impact/effort assessment.

Check out the Forbes article for additional prioritization info, and the remaining five tips.

Also, for information on lean prioritization methods, see this insightful article from All About Lean, titled, “How to Manage Your Lean Projects - Prioritize.”

Finally, to complete the trifecta of valuable prioritization articles, see this HBR article, “How to Prioritize Your Company’s Projects,” which talks about how having a “Hierarchy of Purpose” is critical to any prioritization model. This involves tying together the 5 Ps (Purpose, Priorities, Projects, People, and Performance).

Happy reading!


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The One Thing You Need to Do To Resolve Project Overload

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Too many projects and not enough people. It’s a battle cry heard in organizations everywhere. A new article published in HBR (Harvard Business Review) titled “Too Many Projects: Why Companies Won’t Let Bad Projects Die” tackles the issue head on. Authors Rose Hollister and Michael D. Watkins offer key insights into the root of the problem, along with some practical, spot-on solutions.

The gist of the solution can be summed up in two words: Resource Management,

This includes:

  • the demand/capacity visibility and transparency that prioritization and resource planning brings

  • continuously considering the triple constraint of demand, supply, and priority with every new project request, ongoing resource assignment, and project execution checkpoint. 

Hollister and Watkins offer a few cautions as well.

They warn against prioritizing by function or department alone, lest silo thinking will sabotage enterprise prioritization efforts.

Likewise, they advise against simply instituting an overall prioritization process without deciding what to cut (i.e., planning without execution). 

They also suggest avoiding uniform percentage cuts for each department because then organizational priorities aren't considered.

The authors include four areas to assess before each new initiative is undertaken, all of which relate directly to resource management (which I propose includes balancing demand with capacity).

The four areas are (the parts in parenthesis are my added description):

  • Analyzing the project (for goals and expected benefits)

  • Assessing the resources (and the resource and cost impact on the organization vs. other work)

  • Sizing up stakeholder support (for commitment and to validate priorities)

  • Setting limits (and identifying tradeoffs needed in order to fit the work in)

For more on the causes and cures for project overload, I highly suggest reading their article.


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Note: Whether you’re new to resource planning concepts or an experienced veteran, you may find value in the 8th Annual Resource Planning Summit, February 10-13, 2019 in Nashville, TN. Registration is now open. I’ll be speaking at the event, along with PMI Fellow Frank Saladis and a number of other leaders in the field. The full speaker lineup will be announced shortly. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Project Priorities Are the Foundation of Effective Resource Allocation

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When staffing an onslaught of incoming and active projects, it's tempting to try to "fill in the gaps," assigning resources to meet the stated skill needs. But if multiple projects are clamoring for the same resources (and let's face it, they usually are), which projects take precedent?

This is where priorities come in. Resources (or teams) should be allocated to projects in priority order (and ideally, your software will accommodate this automatically). This way, if a lower priority project needs certain resources and they've already been assigned to a higher priority project, well, that's exactly as it should be. Conflicts can then be discussed if need be, and priorities can be reexamined. 

But it's more than just that. Priorities should determine the incoming projects to begin with. All planned strategic and business initiatives should be in support of defined and prioritized strategies and goals, and should be submitted with a relative priority (this is where portfolio review meetings come in handy).

Ensuring projects are prioritized also avoids the case where individuals find themselves overloaded and begin to prioritize their workload.

Stephen Covey said, "The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities." There's a subtle difference, and it's all about whether you want to be in reactive mode or proactive mode.

In other words, rather than operating in reactive mode by prioritizing an incoming list of initiatives (many of which are often submitted based on the idea du jour or the "squeaky wheel" syndrome) or a schedule of activities, focus first on your  organizational priorities and then proactively schedule activities to deliver them (taking into consideration your finite resource capacity of course). Then, resources can be allocated in accordance with each initiative's relative priority. 

In essence, the time to think about priorities is when the projects get submitted, not after you have your daily to-do list. The project priorities should determine individual and team priorities.


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Focus is the Key to Strategy Execution

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When companies point to their struggle with executing on their strategies, the first thing I often look for is where their focus lies. Often, the culprit is lack of a demand prioritization process, a disconnect from strategy, or both.

It's with that in mind that this article from Oliver Emberton caught my eye: If You Want to Follow Your Dreams, You Have to Say No to All the Alternatives. I think this works on both an individual level and an organizational level.

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In my book Napoleon on Project Management, I highlighted a few examples of this from 200 years ago (Nothing is new under the sun).

First, aside from his many military campaigns (mostly defensive in nature), Napoleon accomplished an incredible amount of administrative reforms in the areas of finance; education; healthcare; civil rights; and more. But he didn't do it all at once. Generally, these reforms were introduced piecemeal, focusing on one area at a time.

Likewise, when his 250,000-strong army was poised to cross the English Channel to preempt a pending British attack, he received news that the Austrians were coming from the east to invade France. Did he split his forces and send half to England and half to face the Austrians? No.

Instead, he turned his entire army around and marched across France at unprecedented speed. That was the more immediate threat. His well-coordinated army marched in seven columns across a hundred-mile front and looped around the Austrians, attacking them from behind. The battle was over before it had begun. 

Whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom, to try to take on too many battles is to dilute your efforts on all fronts. Yet organizations do this all the time, trying to take on every new idea that comes their way. I'll share a relevant quote from Emberton's article:

"Monomaniacal focus on a single goal is perhaps the ultimate success stratagem."

(Or as John Lennon sang, "How can I go forward when I don't know which way I'm facing?")

Emberton's statement of course is in the context of individual endeavors, but in an organization there's no doubt that a heavy focus on demand prioritization and alignment with strategy (in combination with reducing or eliminating lower value work) can exponentially increase the value you get from your most precious asset---your people. Allowing them to focus individually is equally important, which means avoiding multitasking like the plague, and encouraging them to have "downtime hours" where they can focus uninterrupted on what matters.

If there's one takeaway, pay heed to Star Wars creator George Lucas's advice: "Always remember, your focus determines your reality." 


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Are You Outnumbered? Time to Consider Resource Capacity Planning

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In the previous season of Game of Thrones, seven motley heroes ventured into the cold wilderness against an army of thousands of frozen zombies, just so they could bring one of the creatures back alive (or at least undead). 

Why, you ask? 

Well, they needed one as proof to win the allegiance of a skeptical rival queen so humans could join forces in the inevitable fight against the forthcoming "army of the dead."

While you may not be facing an army of the dead, it sure may seem like it sometimes. After all, the incoming projects and current workloads nearly always outnumber the resources you have to get them done. By a lot.

It's human (and organizational) nature. Everyone wants more than can be delivered. Demand nearly always exceeds supply. You also may have goals and pet projects you want to undertake, lofty ideas that will wow everyone, if you could ever see the light of day to get to them.

What you need to do is level the playing field so you're not so grossly outnumbered like our heroes from Game of Thrones, but you can still get the important things done. Ah yes, you may be wondering how our heroes fared. 

Well, (SPOILER ALERT)... they were rescued at the last minute by their own Queen Daenerys and her dragons. 

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Anyway, unless you have dragons, that's not an option. Instead, what you need are three things:

  • An inventory of demand by time period (The projects that need to be done, now and in the foreseeable future)
     
  • An inventory of supply by time period (Your people/teams and the hours they have available to work on projects)
     
  • An understanding of priorities (The relative importance of each project, since you won't be able to do everything)

With that triple threat of core data, you can then develop an "effort forecast" by assigning people or teams to projects, in priority sequence. It's as simple as that. 

Well, maybe not THAT simple because there are bound to be arguments over priority and who gets the resources, but that's why you have portfolio review meetings, to discuss constraints and make value-based decisions. See my interview with Ken Dobie for more on that.

Keep in mind, the priority doesn't have to be a sequential 1-n rank, especially if you have hundreds of projects; it can be in priority "groups" or bands (1000 are the "must dos", 2000s are next, etc.). You can always rank certain competing blocks of projects sequentially. But you must know the relative priority of the work you're being asked to take on.

The central principle here is: The most valuable bird gets the worm.  

In essence, by employing resource planning on a regular basis and always balancing prioritized demand with supply, you'll find that you can attack a much more realistic work portfolio and have a far greater chance of delivering it successfully. No dragons required.


For those interested, I'm co-hosting the PDWare Explorer free monthly webinar series with Paul Samarel, CTO at PDWare, where we'll be offering more valuable tips and techniques on resource and portfolio management. A partial product demo is also included, but in the context of the topics discussed. It's not a sales pitch. The next session is on Portfolio Delivery, Thursday, April 26th at 11am US EST. Click HERE for more information or to register for that or other monthly sessions. 


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn