In order for something to be a priority, that thing by definition must be of elevated importance. If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority and life slowly begins to lose meaning. So, maybe life doesn’t lose meaning when we fail to prioritize but life certainly struggles to find any sense of order and we struggle throughout the day to gain traction towards our goals. If you are in the habit of planning out your day, prioritizing your tasks and being productive with you time than you know the struggle that often occurs when there are too many fires too put out. If the village (your plan) is burning, there is only one hose and a limited water supply – where do you start?
The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. - Stephen Covey
Those who prioritize live in reality. Success starts with planning, without a plan there is no target. There is an ever widening expanse between the plans we make and the completion of those goals, if we do not make changes to get ahold of the void it will grow daily. That gray area in between reaching our destiny and falling into the expanse requires adaptation through prioritization. The plan is the intentional process that flows from our vision and through execution we move towards our intended outcome. Project management must always allow for flexibility as emergencies arise, components do not always function perfectly and elements outside of our control impact our trajectory. Prioritization is an essential mechanism that keeps our efforts on course and prevents adaptation from spiraling out of control. There is more than one way to find yourself trapped in the void of failure.
As all entrepreneurs know, you live and die by your ability to prioritize. You must focus on the most important, mission-critical tasks each day and night, and then share, delegate, delay or skip the rest. - Jessica Jackley
Create a daily plan – be intentional about how you are going to move towards your goals
Execute your plan – allow for flexibility and be prepared to adapt to the obstacles life throws at you
Prioritize your plan – keep yourself on vision and hitting your targets by governing yourself
If you are not in the habit of creating a daily plan for yourself, you are running in a hamster wheel that you will never get out of. If you are in the habit of making a plan but you do not allow for flexibility, you are headed for a heart attack. If you are in the habit of planning and adapting but you do not prioritize, you have a better hamster wheel than most but the hamster wheel is running you.
If you have a vision, make a plan and are intentional about hitting your target then prioritization is the methodology that will enable you to make your time effective. If after planning, adaptation and prioritization you still cannot get ahead then you will need to make changes to how you approach your tasks, for example get help or say no to projects, or else your hamster wheel will soon detach and you will plunge into the abyss.
For an example of how this is put into practice with project management, see how one team does so by making their schedule visible (HERE - includes Video). What have been some of the key lessons you have learned about prioritization?
Connect. Collaborate. Conquer.
Without collaboration from the bottom up and organization will struggle to prevent the inevitable crumbling due to avoidable design failures.
Business people from corporate executives to popular consultants on down to you average small business owner (down in the sense of scale not respect), often refer to business as a jigsaw puzzle. Life hands you an opportunity with a picture in mind but when it comes to reaching that vision it turns that if you want to succeed out there is a lot more work involved than just opening the box. Project management, which is a fancy term for the nuts and bolts on how stuff gets done, is more like a real world version of the classic block tower suspense game, Jenga. If you remember Jenga, it's a series of unilaterally sized blocks that are stacked together and each player has to take a piece out of the tower and reassemble at the top. Eventually the tower crumbles, it has to, but the goal is to not be the one who placed the final and fatal piece. The life lesson is so apt - don't be the fall guy or at least don't be the last one with your fingerprints on the block. Let's break this down a little further.
First reality that Jenga teaches us about project management is that every organization has a great idea that starts with The Beautiful Plan. When Jenga, as a metaphor for an organization's next ground breaking business plan, is brought out of the closet where only the best ideas are stored everyone gathers around and celebrates. It's looks so beautiful and tidy in its snappy packaging with it's protective shield and the perfectly aligned pieces to the vertical puzzle. The plan is bullet proof they say. This can't lose they say. We've ran the numbers and it's going to be huge they say. To the optimist every plan is great and most visionaries are optimists. Once the packaging is set, the suits have bought into the vision and the protective shield has been placed around the fixture, it's up to the project managers and technicians to make the idea work. If the plan works the creators of the plan will take all the credit along with the rewards, if the plan fails then the blame will fall upon the last person to have touched the project. Oh, the beautiful plan. While the author is unknown, the sentiment is spot on with regards to the working definition of the key word teamwork, "Teamwork means you always have someone else to blame."
The second reality of Jenga falls in line with the laws of thermodynamics, everything is subject to entropy. Entropy is basically chaos or the reality that all things, including systems, will eventually break down over time. Author Lex Sisney applies these laws of science to his approach to business in his book Organizational Physics noting that the counter to entropy that will enable success is integration. Integration is both the measure of energy going into a system or process as well as the measure of efficiency in applying that available energy to productive outlets. Sisney, who is the co-founder and CEO of the world's largest affiliate marketing company, notes that, "When we manage the dynamic between entropy and integration with awareness and the right balance – that’s when we meet our potential to be successful beyond expectation." Jenga reflects many organizational ideas that are beautiful in the box but are inherently designed to fail when the plan does not value the collaboration at all levels in the implementation of the plan. For Jenga the pieces are moved in such a fashion that the goal is not to be the last one with the fatal piece, winning the game or business conducted in this manner isn't success it's status quo.
The third principle that Jenga teaches us about successful project management is that if either or both of the prior two principles are true then the result will always be the same. Too often a project goes into sequence and the originators of the vision cannot or will not receive constructive criticism so either the team members are silent to their qualified objections or they are silenced when they bring their concerns to the leadership table. When admiring the package the vision was delivered in and protecting the pride of those whose crafted the concepts is more important that achieving the goals, a project is destined for failure. Diversity in backgrounds, ideas, upbringing, professional experience and culture are all valuable to an organization because they broaden the perspective of the team. If an organization fosters value, input and collaboration from all levels then there is a fighting chance for that team to achieve their collective vision rather than continuing to build and maintain towers designed to crumble.
Toyota has long been studied and copied for their commitment to quality in production and their ability to streamline their processes. Anyone who has studied Kaizen or lean management principles has heard about the andon cord that was a revolutionary staple in the Toyota facilities. This andon cord was a means of empowering every employee along the line of production to have real input in maintaining the quality of the Toyota vision. By pulling the red cord which was strewn throughout the workstations the individual employees could stop the assembly, a huge potential cost to the organization, for quality or other concerns. Through this system Toyota creates a clear culture around the concept of quality and generates accountability within the system that empowers the organization from the bottom up. Some people have said that Toyota is doing away with the andon cord, which actually isn't true, the red cord is being replaced with a yellow button that is wireless. Toyota isn't reverting to pre-Kaizen methodologies because it was too costly, they are updating the system to create better usage at the ground levels of their organization.
If you are in business, your organization is like a Jenga tower, forces are always pulling at the blocks of your company and ready to see it crumble whether those forces are natural such as entropy or external in the form of competition the pressure is there. As noted above the counter measure to entropy is integration and one of the greatest benefits of team collaboration from the bottom up is ensuring that the pressure that crumbles your organization doesn't come from within. Most great civilizations have disappeared into history not because they were conquered by their enemies but by being torn apart internally. If leadership does not seek, does not listen and does not receive input from every level of their organization they will notice that team members become silent which will create a great void in the companies ability to sustain success. (Read more on our article How Open is That Open Door - HERE) As in parenting, managers should not be concerned when employees are bringing issues to them as this often communicates that those team members still care, rather a leader should be concerned when the team is silent. Nothing good rarely results when children or employees are silent.
Connect. Collaborate. Conquer
Have you ever wanted to peer behind the curtain to observe how other organizations are addressing some of the shared challenges that all businesses face? For better or for worse, our video on Creating a Visible Production Schedule walk you through our process for making our team's work flow visible. Simply put, these are our project management tips and resources from managers for managers to help managers manage.
Key objectives for our team as we worked through the production system optimization process:
Our organization was willing to spend money on the right program, but as noted above, we found that many of the most extensive programs were also too labor intensive for our needs. More than return on investment, we were concerned with practicality of the process, clarity of the communication portals and engagement within the team to help propel our mission forward. If you have worked with the insurance process than you know there is no shortage of paperwork for all parties involved, adding another lengthy data heavy process was going to be counter-productive.
What are the benefits of scheduling? Communication is our organization showing our customers that we value them. Clarity and consistency is our organization showing our employees that we value them. Scheduling creates 1) transparency, 2) a baseline for clarity and 3) consistency (read more HERE).
Communication within the organization is essential to setting up service teams for success when they are on the front lines of taking care of customers. Without clear and consistent communication an organization will at best struggle to reach its potential, a common ailment for many businesses of all sizes, and at worst will fold up altogether. Let the desire to improve the process push your leadership team to make communication a priority, or if you are tired of all the negative customer calls and high turnover, perhaps it’s time that management takes some responsibility (see our article published at R&R on The Five Layers of Communication).
Video credit @thelegitabbie / Youtube
Jon Isaacson is a friend to facilities and risk professionals, partnering to enhance education, networking and assisting with recovery when the worst of it all hits the fan. While in college, the young Jon responded to an ad in the local paper for carpet cleaning and discovered the world of property restoration. Continuing the pattern of mentorship taught to him, Jon has built his business acumen growing organizational strength through professional relationships, employee development and process improvement. In addition to working full time, raising a family and volunteering, Jon writes, speaks and serves as director of local facilities networking group LFMC.
Jon Isaacson. Green belt in the puzzle art of business. Helping people clarify their vision, optimize productivity & follow through w/ creative solutions #MTWSL
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