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Blindsided! Conflicting Priorities in Projects

This week, I am starting new series of postings that showcase some of the most common blind spots to successful project execution.  I call these the blind spots because most managers are not even aware that these menaces are the true problem.  The symptoms are obvious, but the root problem is hidden.  The first cause is dealing with task priority.

In a perfect world, all resources would have one project to work on and one project manager.  But of course, that is not reality.  Most people are tasked to several projects, many with different project “managers” who all think that their project is obviously the most important one.  They cannot see other projects or other priorities.

This means that the resource is forced to choose, with limited insight, what priority task to work on.  The most frequent result is that rather than working on project tasks that are a true priority, they choose projects to work on based on which manager asks the most, yells the loudest, or flatters the most.  Even worse, some people will work on whatever is asked of them at the moment, immediately switching to the most urgent.  The result of both is that there are many tasks started, but few are being finished.   The workflow becomes filled with unfinished work, slowing progress for ALL projects.

As a further result, the work of managers is reduced to expediting and negotiating resource availability.  And of course, they are quite creative!  However, this creativeness is not fun or particularly productive if you want to accelerate all of your projects.

The solution is to create a single priority system for all resources.  This significantly reduces multitasking and increases resource productivity and project velocity.

As you set up your single priority system keep the following in mind:

Choose priorities that are determined by the overall goals and deadlines of the organization, not for a specific department.  As you create one priority, focus on what is best for the whole company, focusing on the big picture.  This may mean a renegotiation of service level agreements or other local measurements.

Centralize assignment of priorities.  Establish one gate to the workflow where the priorities are designated.  This is a single manager or analyst who manages work priorities for the resource group.  This person becomes both the voice of the organization to its customers and a voice of the customer to the organization; the “conductor” to your organization.

Focus on one priority task at a time.  The single priority system must be managed by the task managers to ensure resources are not multitasking.  Do not allow outsiders (you know who they are!) to “help” with task assignment.

Use a priority system that everyone understands.  The key to an effective system is transparency and simplicity.  The goal of the system is to understand the most important work and engage people to work on it continuously.  Don’t be concerned about precision, a simple scale of 1-4 is simple enough.

Creating a single priority system is critical for effective project execution and is at the heart of our visual project management approach, ViewPoint.  Learn more about the ViewPoint approach here.

To read more about the conflicting priorities and other invisible threats to managers, read our new eBook Blindsided! Five Invisible Project Threats Successful Managers Must See.

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