The art of prioritisation

I recently completed a course of Agile project methodology training. It was 2 days well spent and even though I’m no longer entrenched in the world of pure software development, I picked up a lot of ideas and processes which I can certainly apply back at the ranch.

Since the days following the course one sentence has stuck in my mind. Something the trainer said on day 1 when we were discussing how teams decide what to do next and how they manage that amongst stakeholders. He said:

“Nothing is just as important as something else”.

As those of you working in the hectic environment of a Digital Marketing Agency will know, the constant (hourly!) embracing of change happens amidst a backdrop of Account Managers, Senior Leadership Team and Director level stakeholders pumping their priorities into the business at breakneck speed.

It then falls to the team, the doers, to interpret that, re-jig studio schedules, self organise and commit to deliver the work that they believe is of the highest priority. That straightforward? Nah of course not.

At any one time, many people in the business will believe that their requirement, without a shadow of a doubt, is the most important. And when those people conflict, it creates an awkwardness for those who are actually carrying out the work — a bit like watching your parents argue.

The outcome can be, whoever shouts loudest wins. And this is the way I have seen it happen for many a year during my stints at previous DM agencies.

So rewind back to before the shouting — and let’s sit the warring factions opposite one another, each still believing that their wish must be granted first as it is obviously the most business critical. Then we apply that statement — “Sorry guys, but nothing is just as important as something else”. In other words, think about it and make a decision.

When forced to face the truth, 9 times out of 10 it becomes obvious within a matter of minutes which must take priority. Questions like — “What would happen if this wasn’t completed today?” are useful. Because frequently the answer is “actually that would be fine because….. x,y,z”.

The fact people are so passionate about pushing work through for their cause is great. The fact that its more about quality than speed for the teams I work with is even better. But now and again even the most experienced of us need to take a step back and answer some fundamental questions. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in whats right in front of our faces.

So I suppose my morale to this story is — confront the truth of the matter. What is actually the most important thing for us to do next? It’s such an obvious nugget of advice — but I certainly needed to revisit it.

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