Project Management

3 Tips for when your to do list is full of important things

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Have you got too much on your To Do list? What about the backlog – is everything in the ‘must do’ category? What about your project prioritisation process? How many projects are top priority, even when you’ve applied what should be reasonable and weighted criteria designed do rank projects based on importance?

Yes, I’ve been there. Everything is important and stakeholders want it all tomorrow.

We all know that isn’t possible, and in most cases, isn’t even desirable. Some of those ‘tomorrow’ dates will be totally arbitrary, and based on the shadow of a promise instead of fact-based, schedule-driven expectations.

But when a senior person asks you to do something, or your trying to guide the team through a prioritisation exercise, how can you manage all the things to do? Here are 3 tips for reframing your workload and helping stakeholders see what’s possible based on capacity and priority.

1. Go back to the ‘why’

What’s the benefit of doing the task, project or of delivering that feature? What’s the rationale behind it and the user impact? Think about how you can measure the success of the deliverable and what return it will provide. That doesn’t have to be a financial return, it could be a social impact return, customer satisfaction improvements or something else.

Understanding the reason for doing the task and what comes out the end of it will give you greater insight into priority. The project that has the largest return is normally worth doing over the project that has a small return. The automation task that you’ve been putting off setting up is going to free up resource time longer term, and that’s worth more to you than something tactical.

2. Yes, but…

When stakeholders are pushing for their tasks to be at the top of the list, ask for their help in prioritising. Say you can do the work, but at the expense of something else. What stops, or gets delivered later?

“Yes, I can take that on, but it means postponing delivering XYZ that you also asked for, until next week. Are you OK with that?”

“Yes, we can do that, but we’ve got a lot of other changes to work on first, so we won’t get to it until next month.”

The onus is on them to support the prioritisation effort, and it helps make them aware of the impact of juggling priorities – especially when their request impacts another stakeholder’s expectations.

3. Draw the line

One of the techniques we used in my old job was to maintain a list of changes and projects in priority order. We had a prioritisation model that everything was fed into, and the output was a ranked list of work.

Then we applied estimates to the work and reviewed the capacity of the team. That told us how much work we could take on as a department and what was next in line for when there was availability to pick up something else.

It was a spreadsheet, and it literally had a line under the work we could do. Everything under the line didn’t get worked on.

If someone expects their work to take priority, it needs to go through the prioritisation route. Sharing the list (and the line) with stakeholders helps them visualise why you can’t simply do it – even if it’s a small thing.

“Yes, that’s fine, it will take longer than normal to work its way through testing because of the volume of work the team has on at the moment. Oh, you need it sooner? Let me share the higher priority items with you if this takes precedence, so you can see what other stakeholder commitments we’d need to drop to do this more quickly. Perhaps you could talk to those stakeholders to agree the overall priorities? I’ll put a call in.”

What else do you do to help protect your time and prioritise your work? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on: March 14, 2023 09:00 AM | Permalink

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