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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Prioritization Juggling Act

One of the hardest things to do is to get a group of individuals to prioritize tasks. This is hard because: 1. Decisions have to be made - which is a challenge in itself to get decision makers to make the decision 2. It's not all about you - you may have to give in on some things you really want 3. Uncertainty - if I prioritize something lower than something does that mean I won't get it all As business analyst and even in our personal lives, we deal with this prioritization juggling act through our projects and life. How do you prioritize you day? How do you prioritize your work? How do you prioritize getting from point A to point B if you kids involved in different activities? One thing I have learned, from a project perspective, is that a high, medium, low scale does not always work because most people will rate everything high. This results in wasting time and starting at the beginning. The rating is not as important as the way of thinking to clearly map out your goals. This is where the "Systems Thinking", which I love comes into play. Here are some new ways of thinking that an help you. 1. Before you start prioritizing truly understand WHY it's a task or item to be prioritized. You might say to me, "I already do that!", but do you really? How many times, as a business analyst, are you handed tasks to do and you just work them without asking questions because you were told they are needed? How many of us challenge the process to truly gain the understanding of how what we are doing is adding value to the organization and not just to meet a date? You may ask, "What does this have to do with prioritizing?" Well everything! Why even prioritize something that shouldn't be prioritized in the first place. Understand the VALUE. Systems thinking can be leveraged here and throughout this post as a way to understand the whole and not just the parts. 2. Once you have the items that need to be prioritized, bundle like items together and understand any interdependencies. How do these items relate and what are the impacts if they have different priorities? This is some analysis that gets missed upfront and then is paid for when the system is being designed or tested. This means more analysis should be done upfront. Context diagrams can be used to understand data flow, functional decomposition diagrams can be used to break down tasks as a few tool examples. 3. Identify the TRUE decision makers. Do your stakeholder analysis to determine who needs to be at the table to help make the decision. The RACI model can be used here as a tool. 4. Determine the format to present the information for productive and fruitful conversations so decisions can be made. In this documentation define the ranking system. I would suggest using some sort of numbering system. For example, number "1 - X" or a defined system where "1 = Must Have", "2 = Must Occur 3 weeks after 1", etc...This is just an example and this will have to agreed upon by the project team and decision makers. Make sure your rating skill is specific to clearly depict the value of the item being discussed. May be a matrix or excel spreadsheet as potential tools here. 5. Empower the decision makers to prioritize by listening to their concerns and ensuring they feel valued. Do not interpret them when they are speaking and do more listening and less talking. It's not about rushing throughbthebitems but really identifying the priority of items to be worked. This will make your life easier in the long run and really keep you focused on what should be worked at the time. This will take you really using your leading with influence skills. If there is one thing I want to stress is that the thinking you use to get to the point of prioritization is key as well as throughout the prioritization process. Always think, what is the VALUE add to what you are prioritizing? Asking questions upfront will help you to gain that knowledge. Don't just prioritize for the sake of prioritizing. Regards, Paula Bell

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