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Taming Chaotic Project Management - Dealing with Changing Priorities

Posted Dec 22 2009 5:24am

Remember Gym Sprints? Running at full speed in one direction, suddenly changing and running back in the other direction, again a change and another direction to run full speed. It reminds me of changing priorities and organizational sprints. Prioritization is the art of choosing what not to do, and it is hard for organizations without good business governance to choose what not to do. If you find yourself dealing with changing priorities, here are some tactics you can deploy.

5 Techniques for dealing with changing priorities

  1. Establish a yearly enterprise wide planning process- This tactic will make sure that the board approved capital spend is well vetted from an IT perspective for business projects with IT components. There is an automatic prioritization as there will not be enough capital or donations to do EVERYTHING. This sets the prioritization for at least a year's timeframe.
  2. Assure the one who sets priorities for IT sets priorities for all - This tactic deals more with the operational aspect of enhancements and operationally funded work. Here the key is to be out of the weeds and at a management level of one who can authorize priorities. So if you departmental meetings are with the supervisor in revenue cycle, and never with the VP of Finance, you have a problem. Time to get out of the weeds and up a notch on the organizational scale for decisions, as this is accomplished the requests for work will become of a higher caliber.
  3. Establish a prioritization timeframe - Once you set priorities, it is important for them to last for a spell. As you get the leadership up a level for prioritization setting, also have a frank discussion at the onset of the impacts with changing priorities. Get the leader's commitment to a timeframe, perhaps 3 or 6 months for how long priorities will remain in place. After the first interval, ascertain how well that went and the next window of prioritization.
  4. Assure your project resource capacity is always 90% filled, not 100% - By this stage, you should be aware of your organization's capacity for project work. This can vary a little here at there, but be careful not to halt all operational work for two months or more to exclusively support a new project implementation. It is also a good idea not to plan to run at a 100% capacity. It just will not work out in the long run. Plan for between 80% to 90% capacity, this way you can be agile enough to address scope changes or emergency efforts.
  5. Have IT leaders who can have this discussion - The leaders of your department need to be skilled in negotiation to have this frank discussion. If you have a cowboy leader, you may need to provide coaching to assure they have the capacity to discuss these items. It may also turn out that the cowboy is now in the wrong seat on the bus.

The TakeAway

Getting a handle on establishing good priorities is a necessary management responsibility. The benefits will be happier team mates, less technical debt, and managed customer expectations. I'd like to hear your thoughts and insights on this topic. Also any approaches which worked for your organization.

Further Readings on Taming Chaotic Project Management:

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