• Carrie Nedrow

Carrie's Cheat Sheet - Creating Ranked Priorities

How do we prioritize?


There are MANY ways to prioritize across an organization.  Lots of books will give in-depth practices. Just remember: no single prioritization methodology is one-size-fits-all. 


If every team asks themselves, “what is the most important work for my team to do?” they are likely to come up with a huge list. How do you manage such a daunting list?


Here are a few questions I like to consider while prioritizing work:

  • What would happen if we didn’t do it?

  • What will leapfrog us into the future?

  • What will transform our culture?

  • What will keep us open and running?


The beauty of this simple process is that it can be used during periodic planning, project kick-offs, scrum-of-scrums, and rebooting a faltering effort.


Six Simple Steps

(a-hem, simple does not always mean easy)


Preparation: identify your key team members who are connected to the needs of customers, company strategy, and employees. Ask them to check in with their stakeholders's wants and desires. Set aside either one-full day or two half-days to work Steps 1-5. In a virtual or physical session, make sure you have the ability for people to rapidly write out ideas, share those ideas, and re-arrange ideas. Finally, make sure you have a dedicated note-taker to capture progress, parking lot discussions, and next steps. Prepare a few ice-breakers and team distractions - you will get weary.


Step 1. In one or two words, we brainstorm (no limits - anything is possible!) a giant list of all the things we should/could/want to do, we remove duplicates, and sort them into our corporate objective categories: e.g. customer experience, moonshot initiative, and employee and customer confidence.   


Step 2. We look at the massive pile of sticky notes and start our next round of categorization:  Run-The-Business, Strategic Investment, and Compliance.  Sorting each category into sub-categories really helps answer the questions: what would happen if we didn’t do it? Leapfrog into the future? Change our culture? Keep us open?


Step 3.  We step back and gaze at the ideas in the categories.  Really take it in.  How does each idea impact the big picture of the corporation and the daily life of the team?  Is that one sticky on the side over there the one that never gets done but is actually a game changer for the group?  Is the one in the center the one tackled every year and doesn’t yield results? What themes are emerging? Talk about it together. Ask for clarification. Try saying, "Tell me more about that one."


Step 4. Vote.  Virtual tick-marks work just great.  One effective voting method is to give every person a discrete number of votes, say five, that they can use any way they like - all on one idea or spread around. Vote at each corporate category level.  After voting, review the ideas that did not get high votes.  Discuss what will happen if we do NOT do these things?  Take a deep breath.  If no votes are shifted, then, set those low-voted ideas aside.


Step 5. Vote on the remaining ideas across all categories.  


By the time we vote on the entire list, usually everyone is a bit tired and brain weary.  And a little uncomfortable.  In many cultures, saying, ‘this idea is higher priority than that idea’ feels exclusive or we may miss an opportunity.  Someone will be disappointed.  Can’t we just spread the work around?  Surely we can get to more on that list than this?? Come on!!!  


Gently quiet your inner voice and ask yourself to watch and listen.


When we have a list of prioritized goals, our teams will focus on them and crush them.


Step 6. Publish Draft 1 of The List. Share it with your entire team and all your stakeholders.  Take in their feedback. Did we miss something?  Do we need to re-think something?  OK… re-huddle for another half-day session, discuss opportunities to add higher value, and publish the list again.  Lock it down and cement it with your team.


Be specific:

Priority 1. Increase Critical System uptime to 100%

Priority 2. Eliminate customer enrollment complaints with a smooth error free experience

Priority 3. Create an employee growth environment through training, speaking, and career advancement

... Priority 27. Reduce system ticket duplication errors, etc.


Did you just roll your eyes?  Have you seen those BHAGS before?  Or do you think, what on earth does that have to do with my team?  How does that get crap off my list today?


You can do this process with your daily list.  There are a zillion books on making lists and prioritizing them. 


The common thread in those excellent books

is that you DO IT. 


Everyday, you ask yourself, what would happen if I didn’t do it? What will leapfrog us into the future? What will transform our culture? What will keep us open and running?


And then, you start working on your list.  One thing at a time. With focus expecting results.

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