Prioritization is a very interesting and profound thing. How companies focus on their top priority initiatives can change the course of not only their products, but the company as a whole and marketplaces. Companies gain and lose clientele based on how they determine different items should be focused on sooner than later. The idea that somehow a customer wanting to pay for a request means you should perform the work is very enticing. Many companies are never at the point of being able to turn away such work when it is requested. However, how does this impact the ability of your company to chart its course as to how you want to not only present yourself in the marketplace but position yourself for new opportunities and ventures.
Three Critical Prioritization Aspects
Let’s first take a look at prioritization through three different lenses. Prioritization can be classified with aspects of the following:
Business / Company Value
Customer Desires / Requests
Complexity / Size of the Work
Each of these pieces have different ways that they can be prioritized. However, believing that everything gets pushed to the top because the customer wants it suggests that the Customer Desires / Requests is the top priority of the company. This would mean that you are heavily beholden to the strategy of “The Customer is Always Right”. Are they? What about when they request things that are contrary to what your product or initiative is trying to accomplish? Do you still believe they are “always right”? There does need to be some level of balance that exists as to how you listen to the customer because you definitely shouldn’t ignore them.
Let’s first look at how you truly determine something is valuable for your organization or the lifeblood of the product you are distributing. When something has been deemed as valuable, it is because it falls into one of the following categories:
Revenue Generation– The ROI or IRR is deemed significant enough to invest in building or buying the solution or components to match what is being requested en masse with the marketplace you are approaching with your products or solutions. When the revenue stream is still in the growth stage the exponential rate of return in a short period of time is often classified as “catastrophic growth”. You try to respond to the need by getting more available as soon as possible to your clients and potential clients.
Cost Savings– When a growth curve of new clientele has started to slow down, efficiency becomes a significant area of focus. How can we make sure that we are getting the best return for every dollar spent. With software, are we making sure that the platform and solution is sustainable. Are we maintaining the product in ways that can be self-sustaining? Do we look at self-service options for clients to get what they need with minimal cost on our end to get return. I always think of self-checkout at grocery stores, RedBox and apps or online sites that allow you to book flights, travel arrangements, purchase movie tickets or countless other things. Even when crossing the border from the United States to Canada the kiosks that allow you to take care of most of the customs declarations yourself. Self-service is a major key to take away repetitive tasks to allow your employees to be focused on the things that really require more focus, attention and analysis.
Customer Satisfaction– What are you hearing from your customers? Do they prefer certain ways of interacting with you or your company? Are they more interested in options or something just basic to provide something to be able to accomplish the job? What are you using to gather data on what your customers truly want? Sometimes we want so much data to understand our clients and we don’t even understand the basic needs or desires first. Get in the ballpark with satisfaction first and then refine what level of data you need.
Quality over Quantity
Although we hear this concept discussed all the time, do we truly believe it and embrace it within our companies? Whenever I see my kids eat a few M&M’s and they ask for more, what are they really asking for? More what? More is not just a quantitative measure of getting a larger number of things. It’s a matter of getting less things than are not helpful or otherwise have no value to you or your consumer. What do they really want? Knowing the root of the desire or passion that your consumer or client wants is what allows good products to become great. The opposite is when we get so many versions of the same clunky product that we start wondering why we are using it at all. Some simple measures that help us determine the degree to which we are meeting customer desires could be as follows:
Frequent Usage of the Product / Feature
Willingness to Invite other to use the Product / Feature
Positive perception of the product as innovative or responsive to their needs
We look at lots of surveys and other ways to gather this type of empirical data, but the key is that we recognize it when it happens. With software we observe behavior within the solution itself. There are countless companies that make money simply off of observing consumer trends and what those trends lead to which helps companies cater their solutions to evolving needs. Just think about what Facebook, Google and Apple understand about their consumers to try to pivot with their needs and desires. Are we observing and acting so we get higher quality of solutions and not just more stuff? There are many questions that should be considering whether to actually invest in a product or solution. Here are just a few:
Build vs. Buy Proposition
Complexity/Cost of the Work
Cost of Delay Considerations
We have to be building the right products and solutions if we want to not just remain relevant but competitive in an ever-changing marketplace. Without being involved in charting the course of success for a product and adapting to the desires of consumers, the quality of a product simply does not exist. The old adage is very appropriate in this circumstance that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Is your product something that people want to behold? Remember this doesn’t mean that it is perfect, but it is something that consumers want or desire because you have helped meet a need or solve a problem they have.
Emergencies Require Heroes, Agile Requires Courage
Having lived life in multiple states and with a favorable upbringing, I have still seen a fair share of struggles. All people do. However, I’ll never forget the time when our house caught on fire in the middle of the night as a teenager. My parents, all my siblings and even the dog all got out of the house safely. The fire had started in the garage so we attempted to start the process of dousing the fire with whatever we could find to put it out. For some reason the fire department thought my mom was making a prank call to them about a house on fire as it required 3 calls to them before they finally came. We were glad that they did but by then, the fire had been completely extinguished with garden hoses from the neighborhood and the firefighters hit a couple hotspots and went on their way. To this day I see the wonderful job that firefighters and emergency personnel do and can’t help but wonder how difficult it is to go into situations where people are reeling because of people loss or injury and to try to help stabilize the situation so recovery can begin.
What are we looking to solve that requires emergency attention? The most common response I get through companies I have worked with when I ask them why something suddenly has become so urgent is that someone important says it needs to get done, so they are going to do it. I am always baffled by this. Usually when going to the root of the suddenly emergent request, the person has a few responses:
I had a great idea and wanted it done so I told them it was top priority
A client called me and I don’t want to hear stuff like this again from them
It’s been on the list for a while and I finally got a chance to look at it… it’s pretty important
You will notice that in none of the aforementioned circumstance is it ever mentioned what the real impact is for a client. The second statement begins to get there, but misses the mark without a true impact statement. The most common thing even for well-intentioned
managers and executives is that they will change their minds. That means that priorities will change. And in short, there is nothing wrong with that. However, one person’s failure to plan should not constitute an emergency on the part of others. There are unique circumstances where this is not the case. However, too often the third takeaway is what happens. Someone simply didn’t get to the list of items and suddenly it has now become important to them. Instead of bowing to every whim, discipline and courage needs to be exuded. So long as two-way communication truly exists in an organization, the conversation on this new top priority should help to avoid unnecessary emergencies from occurring. There should be discussion of what is more important and how that impacts something else not getting done that was originally slated for the same timeframe. We don’t just keep adding more and more items with an infinite capacity. Time and cost must be fixed so we can deliver and then inspect what is needed next. Unless we are transparent about what change brings as an advantage or disadvantage in different stages of our development of solutions, we will not enable good decision-making skills within managers and executives. Transparency, courage and honesty then lead to success in an organization and not the “Hero Mentality” that gets so commonly rewarded. We really need less firefighting and more courage to identify and implement a strategy.
Lots of information has been shared here. Getting the right solution at the right time is a combination of art and science. Some might even say it requires a bit of luck and wizardry too. If you are left balancing how you approach prioritization, keep it as simple as possible. Ask yourself how many items you have that are your “Top” priorities. One company I observed had classifications of their priorities by letters of the alphabet. I figured that would be helpful, until I found out 7 initiatives were A’s. Over 30 were B’s and then another almost 70 were C’s with even more that decremented thereafter. Please please please... Keep it simple. Make a decision. Don’t be afraid to admit when things are going sideways early so change needs to happen. Success can happen by identifying what is working, what is not working and making adaptations to get the right products out the door and the right time.
Good luck in your prioritization ventures and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions on your unique situation.