Keith R Szewczyk

The Priority Bottleneck

In Performance Management on February 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm

by: Keith R. Szewczyk

One of the responsibilities of an executive is to define the priorities that often guide the organization to make decisions on resource allocation when things go wrong. Now in a “perfect” world the organization would never rely on the priority list, because all projects are clear of issues, all project requirements are 100% defined, all projects are fully staffed and there are no risks on the project.

Now you can wake up from this perfect dream and come back to reality. I once had my boss the CEO tell the senior executive staff the following:

“Marketing and Sales expects that R&D will deliver the product on time, on budget and with every requirement implemented with zero issues so their customers can be happy. R&D expects that Marketing has defined every requirement and that the customer will never change any requirement during the development lifecycle. Project Management expects that every milestone is met as there is zero risk. If this is the case and everything is perfect then we do not need Project Management, Marketing and Sales…the company does not need me. Nothing is perfect, therefore be flexible.”

The projects that a company undertakes is full of risk, full of issues, and customers require changes. Another complicated issue is that the resources pool for any company is limited and to increase that pool to deal with peaks is not a good business practice without making a strategic hiring decision with an action plan that leads to direct utilization. The priority bottleneck is created because risks are realized, issues occur, resources are limited, and customers want changes (even if they pay for the change, the impact trickles down through any resource plan!).

So how do we manage through these issues:

  • First senior management must define the project priority list based on the strategic plan. Force a numeric order with a 1 – n ranking based on the most strategic projects. Only change this ranking IF you add another project or if the senior management agrees that the ranking must change due to the change in the strategic plan. Stay consistent here!
  • Define clear schedules that are resources loaded. Make sure the schedule WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) equals your work packages within your lifecycle process.
  • Manage the peaks through efficiencies and priority planning.
  • Risks, Issues, and Changes will happen and plans will have to change. Empower your line managers to manage this fluid process. Define a clear escalation process with clear requirements for the gap analysis based on needs and limitations.
  • If a lower priority project is impacted and there is no other approach and the result is what it is, BE FLEXIBLE and communicate this reality to the customer.

Remember, it is our jobs as managers to mitigate as much risk as possible, resolve every issue as fast as possible and help the team be as efficient as possible on our execution (process and process improvements). However, it is our jobs to deal with the impacts as nothing is perfect, or we would not have jobs. Priority bottlenecks are reality and occur everyday!

How do you manage your priority bottleneck?

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