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Jim Benson


Prioritization Is a Matter of Perspective

Your ‘need’ to prioritize is a symptom

Published: Thursday, July 16, 2020 - 11:02

You feel like you need to prioritize. That is a cry for help. And prioritization isn’t the help you need.

At this point, any act of prioritizing is a small bandage on a very large wound. You can, and probably should, still do it, but it will give you only momentary relief.

Politics, silos, poor workflow, not understanding customer needs, low morale, conflicting projects, over-commitment, overload, bottlenecks, lack of respect, and so much more can be among your root causes for your “prioritization crisis.”

I’ve visited many clients who asked for prioritization and were at first annoyed when I sleuthed out the underlying cause and suggested we work on it. Over the years, this led to a longish list of perspectives which you see below. All in all, nine different contexts with three different perspectives… 27 different ways to look at your upcoming work and sleuth out what is really stopping you.

The nine contexts are simple questions we rarely, if ever, ask before figuring out what to do next. Strangely, they not only guide our priority but also will show us where our culture is failing us:
1. Who am I working with? The collaborative or uncooperative structure of your company directly impacts unreasonable demands on other groups.
2. Who needs this work? The people waiting for your product need it in a usable form and the appropriate time.
3. Can the work be completed? You would not believe how often people start work that simply cannot be completed.
4. When do we need to start? Your “importance” is not someone else’s urgency.
5. What do my peers need? When your team is working or when you need something from another silo, maybe your current task is not the most important use of your time.
6. What blocks success? Clean up your room, kid. Defects, technical debt, unsafe working conditions, and massive rework are likely part of your cry for prioritization.
7. What happens when we understand our work? We can build systems that naturally prioritize and really remove this repetitive psychological stress disorder we’ve created.
8. Who am I and why am I here? Role definition (not job descriptions) defines what you can do, not the minimum of what you are expected to do.
9. Operational imperatives: When regulations, managerial dictates, weird client demands, etc. make you work in a way you don’t feel professionally comfortable with… what do you do?

All nine of these situations directly impact what work you “choose” to do now. Understanding and being honest about them creates an immediate pathway. They need to be explored in detail, so don’t go making a prioritization canvas. Do the real work.

In the Modus Institute Prioritization for Teams class, we go through direct visualization for all nine of these, three visualizations each. It’s certainly our most intense class. I never expected it to go that deep. I originally planned out eight little lessons that spread to 15 as we kept remembering what we did with different clients and situations.

First published March 10, 2020, on Medium.


About The Author

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Jim Benson

Jim Benson is the creator and co-author (with Tonianne DeMaria) of the best seller Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011) winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award, 2013. His other books include Why Limit WIP (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), Why Plans Fail (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), and Beyond Agile (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2013). He is a winner of the Shingo Award for Excellence in Lean Thinking, and the Brickell Key Award. Benson and DeMaria teach online at Modus Institute and consult regularly, helping clients in all verticals create working systems. Benson regularly keynotes conferences, focusing on making work rewarding and humane.