Prioritization Strategies for Efficiency and Team Success

Uncover the full potential of your leadership skills with Agile expert Angela Johnson as she guides us through the essential art of prioritization. Let’s debunk productivity myths, especially the pitfalls of multitasking, and uncover why sequencing tasks could be the key to your team’s success. Angela’s expertise delves into crucial areas such as customer impact, regulatory compliance, ROI, and more, illuminating how leaders strategically determine task order and adapt priorities for optimal results. 

 

colleagues brainstorming - prioritization

 

The Myth of Multitasking

Angela shares that the brain functions more like a single-threaded machine, needing to set a task down before picking up another. In many places, multitasking like texting and driving is illegal because we’re simply not wired to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. Dr. Jerry Weinberg’s famous 1992 context-switching study highlighted this, revealing that as we juggle more projects, we spend a significant chunk of time just figuring out what to focus on.

Recent studies, like the one from the University of London, have further emphasized this point. Interestingly, they found differences between genders, with men experiencing more challenges than women when multitasking. However, this multitasking isn’t making anyone smarter; in fact, it can lower our IQ. Women may seem better at multitasking because they switch tasks faster, but they’re actually context-switching, not doing multiple things simultaneously. Understanding this can help us work more efficiently and avoid the pitfalls of multitasking.

 

Changing Prioritization to Order

When we say something is prioritized, it means it’s given precedence over something else. However, there’s a common misconception, where we might say everything is a priority, which isn’t accurate. The idea behind prioritization is to force-rank tasks, assigning specific importance to each one to ensure effective management.

For instance, some managers may believe in keeping their team constantly busy, thinking that stacking up tasks leads to productivity. They often say they want to achieve more with less. But in reality, this approach often leads to getting less done. When leaders fail to provide clear direction and allow people to finish tasks instead of starting many simultaneously, efficiency suffers.

Another aspect to consider is how multitasking creates built-in excuses. If someone is given multiple projects with no clear hierarchy, they end up guessing which one to work on first. This confusion can lead to delays and missed deadlines. Without a structured order, individuals may make up their own priorities, resulting in a chaotic workflow.

In essence, prioritization isn’t about making everything a priority but rather establishing a clear order of importance. By doing so, we avoid confusion, improve productivity, and ensure that tasks are completed effectively.

 

When you give people clear direction and we know what the priority is, what the first order of business is, there’s no excuses. – Angela Johnson

 

How do you determine what should be first priority?

In the Scrum and Agile community, deciding what takes top priority involves various factors. One key consideration is who will actually perform the work. Team members provide valuable input, considering dependencies and collaborating to reorder tasks as needed. This adaptability is crucial for handling changes effectively after initial prioritization.

There’s a common pitfall in standard project management known as the “HIPPO” or The Highest Paid Person’s Opinion syndrome—relying solely on the opinion of the highest-paid person or the most senior individual in the organization. While their insights can be valuable, they may lack empathy for users’ or customers’ needs. It’s essential to also consider a range of perspectives to arrive at the best decision.

When we think about traditional meetings, consider the language we use. We ask about the agenda and action items afterward, which implies that no actual work is happening during the meeting. It sounds like a missed chance and a lot of wasted time.

In Scrum, the emphasis is on communication and shared understanding. Scrum encourages actionable conversations. Breaking down tasks into manageable chunks, ideally within a day’s work, helps maintain momentum and prevents overwhelming tasks.

Sprints, typically lasting two weeks in a service-based organization, allow for frequent check-ins with clients. This agile approach enables adjustments based on ongoing feedback, ensuring alignment with client expectations and market dynamics.

Daily Scrum meetings further enhance collaboration and adaptability. Clients actively participate in brief check-ins, providing immediate feedback and clarifications. This real-time interaction ensures that tasks are prioritized based on evolving requirements and shared understanding. These regular ad hoc discussions help teams stay agile and ready to adapt swiftly to new developments.

 

Have you read: Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni 

 

Simple doesn’t mean easy.

It might seem straightforward, right? Angela also talks about how simple eating healthy and exercising regularly sounds like, but not everyone can do it. As the saying goes, “Simple doesn’t mean easy.” Making these changes can be challenging because, as humans, we often resist change and procrastinate. 

It takes something extraordinary to motivate real change, especially within organizations, and it often starts with leadership. Leaders, even those at the top with numerous responsibilities, can benefit from slowing down and reflecting. Angela recommends that leaders take time to read and process what they read. This simple practice can lead to profound insights and pave the way for meaningful change within the organization.

 

Everything can’t be priority or nothing is. 

To effectively manage your tasks, remember that not everything can be a top priority. It’s about assigning importance—some tasks are ones, others are twos, and so on. Grab your pen and paper and start organizing. Timeboxing can be a game-changer. Allocate specific time slots for each task, giving yourself the freedom to focus. If you need more time, that’s okay; adapt as needed. The key is to prioritize finishing tasks rather than starting new ones endlessly.

In the podcast episode, Angela also explored some powerful models for effective prioritization. The four-box model, with its focus on value and risk, provides a clear framework for decision-making and Dr. Harvey Robbins’ plate management concept for ethical and strategic workload management. 

Tune in to the full episode here: Mastering Leadership and Prioritization

Let me know what you think about this topic in the comments!

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