Last month I facilitated an executive level leadership retreat. I was an observer the first day of the retreat and would facilitate the development and prioritization of organizational goals and challenges on the second day of the retreat. The first day was dominated by a discussion of “Challenge A”, what the organization had done about “Challenge A” and what they were going to do to rectify “Challenge A”. The discussion was intense with folded arms and strong opinions.
On the second day all of the organizational challenges were brainstormed by the group and I facilitated the prioritization of these challenges using the Analytic Hierarchy Process. Take a guess where “Challenge A” ended up in relative importance compared to the other challenges. Yes…you guessed it…at the bottom. They had all been focusing on “Challenge A”, disturbed by “Challenge A” and disrupted by “Challenge A” and it was the least important of all their challenges when they looked at the entire picture in context.
They unanimously agreed to stop talking about “Challenge A” and get on with what is truly important. “Challenge A” was very irritating… it just wasn’t important comparatively to the rest of the organizations challenges. This leadership group wasn’t bad…or misguided…they are human beings. You and I have seen this behavior before and odds are high you and I will see it again because...
Human Beings Over Focus on What Is Irritating
As human beings we easily are distracted by something that is irritating, or perceived as incorrect, inefficient or unjust and it becomes our focus. I have dealt with project managers in organizations that blame the project management methodology for all their problems (because the methodology is irritating) but the methodology wasn’t the problem… they were the problem.
What is Irritating You is Often Not What is Most Important
As a leader you must constantly pay attention to what you are focused on…what your team is focused on…and what your leadership is focused on. Always put the focus in context with other challenges and goals to determine if it truly warrants the focus (time, resources, energy) it is getting. This is easier accomplished as an individual and for what you may control organizationally, but you must have a strategy and plan to lead and guide those who are outside of your control to a proper focus.
Prioritize! Prioritize! Prioritize!
This is why prioritization is so important. Every project manager and leader should be skilled in prioritization methods and ensure when discussing anything they understand what they are discussing in the prioritized context of the big picture because it may not be worth discussing at all. Those of you who have been in my training classes have heard me say it time and time again “The key to being a successful project manager is knowing what to ignore.” People and organizations that fail at project management often get consumed by the unimportant, to the point they miss the early opportunity to deal with what is truly important.
Dr. James T. Brown, Author, The Handbook of Program Management - McGraw-Hill