Prioritization: The Number Five Project Manager Success Factor
Number 5 on my top ten list of project manager success factors is to know how to prioritize and prioritize everything (This also means you are skilled at aggregation, disaggregation and re-aggregation).
One of my mantra’s is “key to being a successful project manager is knowing what to ignore.” To do this you must be able to prioritize. Not just prioritize, but do so in a way that establishes “buy in” of the resulting prioritization.
Everything should be in priority order!
This means stakeholders, requirements, issues, risks, resources, team members, the work and whatever else matters. In general prioritization should be publicly communicated, but you must use judgment. There is no benefit gained by informing a stakeholder or team member they are number 17 on your priority list.
To be successful at prioritization it pays to have good facilitation skills. Using those facilitation skills, it is best to involve the team or the stakeholders depending upon the context. Anyone that is impacted by the results of the prioritization, should be included (or represented) in the prioritization process. If they are not included expect them to push back when the prioritization doesn't suit them.
A major part of the value of prioritization is the powerful communication that results.
Communication resulting from prioritization is huge. People have different roles and perspectives and this is brought to the front when prioritization takes place. Bad decisions often result when we don’t understand everyone’s perspective. A good prioritization session not only establishes priority but assures this understanding.
Another element of prioritization is the ability to “aggregate” and “disaggregate,” the ability to decompose a complex problem or situation into smaller parts (disaggregation) or take a variety of seemingly unaligned smaller parts and put them into the context of the big picture (aggregation).
The ability to “aggregate” and “disaggregate” is essential to effective prioritization.
Understanding the big picture (the forest) and its relationship to the pixels that make up the picture (the trees) is crucial to effective prioritization. In my opinion the ability to “aggregate” and “disaggregate” is a rare skill among project managers… possibly because it can require a lot of thinking and thinking takes time.
So, if I were your high level stakeholder my questions to you would be: Show me your top ten risks in priority order; Your top ten issues in priority order; Your top ten requirements or deliverables in priority order; etc. etc. If you can show me those I know you are thinking and focusing your team on the most important things and fostering good communication. If you can’t show me those... well... it is a mentoring moment.
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