Prioritisation, the most important thing to your organisation? You might not immediately think so, but it’s one of the most prevalent challenges that we come across in organisations. Whether they’re two person ventures or major enterprises with tens of thousands of people globally, it’s the same. In the last year, thoughtful prioritisation seems to be the effective solution for the most common question we’re asked: “what do we do next?”

Why now?

In a world commonly described as complex and volatile, the ubiquitous availability of computing power, connectivity and investment has changed customer expectation of being able to find an easier, faster, more convenient or more enjoyable way to serve most needs. This changes the game for most businesses. Mix that with economic pressure created by global markets and politics (I’m not going to say the “B” word) and many organisations just can’t work out the next few moves. Especially when they think about growth or change.

With this amount of focus on moving efficiently, but at pace while adopting new technologies along the way, the pressure is on to choose wisely. The world of opportunity-abundance (the almost unlimited things that you could do) feels compelling and exciting, but the reality is that your teams are unlikely to have the unlimited capacity, budget and energy to experiment with it all.

A global concern

A few years ago, people asked “where do we start” when we talked about any sort of transformation. Now they tend to say “what do we do next”, as a result of having made some sort of start, however successful. In recent visits to Asia, working with clients in Europe and the USA, the problem is resoundingly similar. Even if we get some insight into our challenges and opportunities, how do we work out what the next step should be?

Prioritisation as a service

At Subsector, we avoided talking about prioritisation as the core of our consultancy. We thought it sounded like something people didn’t actively want help with. Instead we talked about “Transformation”, “Decision Making”, “Plans” and “Programmes”. When we listened to our customers talk about our main product, the N2D Method, they all said the same thing: it will help us prioritise. The outcome is that we can; focus on the most critical things, park some that might not be serving us well and justify the reasons. Sometimes when it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck… you get the idea. We had to get comfortable with talking about being specialists in Prioritisation.

Understanding the world of prioritisation

In making a decision to ‘sell’ prioritisation, we’ve become much more interested in how organisations do this, and so we’ve been interviewing people in some of the sectors we’ve worked in (from architecture, engineering, technology, financial services and insurance to not for profit and education) about how they prioritise. The interview series will be published over the next few months.

What’s fascinating is the range of ways organisations currently prioritise.

Here are just a few of the the examples

  1. Priorities set by the board. We’ve heard that testing initiatives with an evidence-based method for prioritisation could mean The Board might be “proved wrong”. One client bravely offered a very honest phrase that I talk about often: “We need to challenge our arrogance”
  2. Business Acumen/Intuition.One CEO we interviewed said that prioritising with an external method would make him feel “emasculated”. He prioritised based on the strategy he set for the organisation.
  3. Tackle the easiest/hardest thing first. Organisations might have picked off the things they can do quickly or decided to tackle the hardest thing. Sometimes this has happened without having a clear way of evaluating the value. Or being able to fully consider what might else impact their success.
  4. Test lots of things at once. Running many small experiments and see which works best.
  5. Creating a Long Term and Short Term strategy. Self-identifying the important actions within these two strands.
  6. Customer feedback. Solving the most common customer problems first and foremost.
  7. Keeping up with competitors or disrupters.

A common problem, uncommon solutions

What is common was an appreciation of the need to prioritise.

What is uncommon are:

  • the ways of achieving this
  • the levels of opportunity for bias
  • subjectivity or group-think to dominate decisions
  • the number of people consulted on what priorities should be
  • the amount of evaluation or assessment that takes place
  • the amount of evidence used to prioritise.

How can you prioritise in 3 key stages?

With a world that changes rapidly and in a fairly uncertain way, you need to find some rocks to cling too. We often quote Jeff Bezos:

“If you want to build a successful, sustainable business, don’t ask yourself what could change in the next ten years that could affect your company. Instead, ask yourself what won’t change, and then put all your energy and effort into those things.”

We help people work out what won’t change, or won’t change so quickly you can’t keep up. That’s normally people. They change – but not as quickly as the technology around them.

1. Get to know your Customers.

Get to know the functional, social and emotional jobs that customers have when they engage with a business like yours. When we say customers, we don’t just mean people who buy from you in the traditional sense. For instance, talent who might want work with you, your current employees, influencers in your business sector, partners, shareholders – anyone your organisation serves. Without them, you have no future business.

2. Get really clear on your objectives.

Being customer centric is all well and good, but it can’t work in isolation. You need to marry it with what you are trying to achieve (even if you’re just a department within the organisation). That means getting clarity and consensus on what the organisation is trying to achieve and understanding the relative importance of those objectives.

3. Think about what else will impact your priorities becoming a reality.

You will also need to understand what else might affect the implementation of your priorities. Often very pragmatic things like; budget, deadlines, skills, team motivation, time until you see impact, regulations or governance, other systems being updated or whatever else is important to your particular circumstance. There is little point driving through priorities that can’t be executed. You’ll end up in gridlock.

If you can balance these crucial ingredients, you can create a prioritised set of initiatives. They will help; the people you serve get what they want and the organisation reach its objectives. The will also consider the realities that might help or hinder them. Simple eh?

At Subsector we analyse these 3 key factors with our clients using our algorithmic decision model, the N2D Method. Our clients make decisions with more impact. If you are interested in finding out more, or becoming an N2D Method Licensee, drop us a line.