Prioritisation is the essential skill you need to make the very best use of your own efforts and all other resources you have at your disposal. It is particularly important when time is limited and demands are seemingly unlimited. It helps you to allocate your time where it is most needed and most wisely spent, freeing you and your people up from less important tasks that can be attended to later or quietly dropped.
With good prioritisation (and careful management of de-prioritised tasks) you can bring order to chaos, massively reduce stress, and move towards a successful conclusion. Without it, you’ll flounder around, drowning in competing demands.
At a simple level, you can prioritise based on time constraints, on the potential profitability or benefit of the task you’re facing, or on the pressure you’re under to complete a job:
- Prioritisation based on project value or profitability is probably the most commonly used and rational basis for prioritisation. Whether this is based on a subjective guess at value or a sophisticated financial evaluation, it often gives the most efficient results.
- Time constraints are important where other people are depending on you to complete a task, and particularly where this task is on the critical path of an important project. Here, a small amount of your own effort can go a very long way.
- It’s a brave (and maybe foolish) person who resists his/her boss’s pressure to complete a task, when that pressure is reasonable and legitimate.
While the following simple approaches to prioritisation suit many situations, there are plenty of special cases where you’ll need other prioritisation expertise such as the effective use of time if you’re going to be truly effective.
1. Paired Comparison Analysis:
Paired Comparison Analysis is most useful where decision criteria are vague, subjective or inconsistent. It helps you prioritise options by asking you to compare each item on a list with all other items on the list individually. By deciding in each case which of the two is most important, you can consolidate results to get a prioritised list.
2. Grid Analysis:
Grid Analysis helps you prioritise a list of tasks where you need to take many different factors into consideration.
3. The Action Priority Matrix:
This quick and simple diagramming technique asks you to plot the value of the task against the effort it will consume.
By doing this you can quickly spot the “quick wins” which will give you the greatest rewards in the shortest possible time, and avoid the “hard slogs” which soak up time for little eventual reward. This is an ingenious approach for making highly efficient prioritisation decisions.
4. The Urgent/Important Matrix:
Similar to the Action Priority Matrix, this technique asks you to think about whether tasks are urgent or important.
Frequently, seemingly urgent tasks actually aren’t that important. Often, really important activities (like working towards your life goals) just aren’t that urgent. This approach helps you cut through this.
5. The Ansoff & Boston Matrices:
These give you quick “rules of thumb” for prioritising the opportunities open to you.
The Ansoff Matrix helps you evaluate and prioritise opportunities by risk. The Boston Matrix does a similar job, helping you prioritise opportunities based on the attractiveness of a market and your ability to take advantage of it.
6. Pareto Analysis:
Where you’re facing a flurry of problems needing to be solved, Pareto Analysis helps you identify the most important changes to make.
It firstly asks you to group together the different types of problem you face, and then asks you to count the number of cases of each type of problem. By prioritising the most common type of problem, you can focus your efforts on resolving it. This clears time to focus on the next set of problems, and so on.
7. Nominal Group Technique:
Nominal Group Technique is a useful technique for prioritising issues and projects within a group, giving everyone fair input into the prioritisation process. This is particularly useful where consensus is important, and where a robust group decision needs to be made.
Using this tool, each group participant “nominates” his or her priority issues, and then ranks them on a scale, of say 1 to 10. The score for each issue is then added up, with issues then prioritised based on scores. The obvious fairness of this approach makes it particularly useful where prioritisation is based on subjective criteria, and where people’s “buy in” to the prioritisation decision is needed.
We have told you a lot but have told you nothing! Our intent was merely to point out the various tools you have at your disposal. Should you wish to know more about any one of the tools, send us a mail naming the tool you wish to have a bit more information on and we will forward it to you.
Remember that internal misjudgements are six times more likely to cause failure than external factors. The message is clear … keep objective help close at hand at all times, and if you don’t have it, get it without delay.
Success in business, as in life, is all about getting the fundamentals right … and the actions you take!
The secret of effectiveness lies in concentrating effort. You must make decisions that determine what matters most and, as a result, what comes first. This is how effective executives handle the reality that there is always more to do than time available. But, it is in this way that the executive gets the most done – starting and finishing the most important task before starting the next.