Prioritisation is not a new thing, so why is it so hard?

I’ve worked with honestly hundreds of portfolios in various states of maturity. From building them from scratch to the ones that have been going for years.

One thing has been common to them all.

Prioritisation issues.

I’ve never found a team that does not recognise the need. Far from it. Pretty much every team tells me “We need to prioritise”.

If everyone knows this, why is it such a challenge to get it right?

I have a view.

I don’t think you’re going to like it though.

Nobody actually wants to prioritise.

Everyone wants the benefits from a prioritised portfolio, but few want to accept what this inevitably means.

You have to say no to some things!

You have to come up with a view of what really matters most.

This is hard when you have many competing views and wants and stakeholders.

This is not, however, just my view on what prioritisation means.

Stephen Covey said, “First things first”. Jim Kwik said, “The most important thing is to make the most important thing the most important thing”.

Basically, do the thing that matters most, first.

When you look at the things on your list that take your time and effort can you honestly say that you are doing this?

Is the weekly half day team meeting really getting you to your goals? Are the shiny 50 page PowerPoint decks that you call Status Reports as important as delivering benefits?

What can you say no to? What can you do less of?

A prioritisation exercise has far less to do with the order of listing the stuff you want to do than most people think. It is much more to do with selecting the stuff that you will now not devote time and effort (and money) toward right now.

It is the right now bit that seems to catch out most people. To put something lower in a prioritised list does not mean you have no intention of getting that done. All it means is that with the resources that you have it makes better sense, in terms of delivered value, to do something else right now. You can do those other things later.

If the saying no bit is what makes you feel uncomfortable try this instead.

“Not right now”.

The key to real prioritisation is not in the list, but in the actions that you take.

Mostly the action to not do some things, right now.

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Nathan Jones