You’re the project manager on a team of 50. You’re responsible for leading a complete overhaul. You’re responsible for revamping a client’s website, print and marketing collateral.
It’s a large project, you’ve been given a clear budget to work within.
You’re working with other teams to make sure this project is a success. It’s a kingmaker. If it’s handled well, this project alone can fast track your promotion.
You’d do everything in your power to ensure this project, your project, was a resounding success, right?
But they failed horribly. Let me rephrase that, they crashed and burned. They started their project with high hopes, but things went off the rails, almost immediately.
Who am I talking about?
CGI Group, and a large amount of federal contractors. You know, the team behind HealthCare.gov.
Their project was a nightmare.
In fact, the HealthCare.gov redesign went so badly that the budget ballooned from 94 million to a whopping 1.7 billion – that’s right Billion with a B.
An analysis later found that the administration did not provide “effective planning or oversight practices,” which is code for one thing.
But why? It’s not like they started the project with the intention of failing. There was a lot at stake here, careers, reputations, opportunities, money.
They failed to prioritize the details of their project. They weren’t able to separate and act on the details that mattered vs. the details that didn’t.
There were too many cooks in the kitchen.
Everyone wanted to have their say, influentials, power brokers, managers and leaders – everyone wanted to have their say on HealthCare.gov.
It’s no different with you.
If you’re a project manager or you’ve worked on a project that’s failed catastrophically, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a common problem, isn’t it?
How do you prioritize a project?
How do you do it when there are so many conflicting goals and agendas at play? Is that even possible?
Projects are completed by people, that’s the obvious part that everyone knows. Here’s the part people working on projects don’t know or won’t accept:
Your projects will be prioritized.
Let me modify that a bit. Your projects will be prioritized with or without you by…
Or, if you handle it well, your project will be prioritized by you. Only that’s not what happens. Unsuccessful projects are dominated by detractors, the people I mentioned earlier.
Your projects will be prioritized with or without you. Click To Tweet
There’s this attitude with some professionals, the belief that prioritization is for amateurs and the inexperienced. “If you need to prioritize your projects you’re going about it all wrong.”
People argue about frameworks.
But they forget or ignore the why. The reasons they need to prioritize their projects.
Prioritizing decreases risk.
Glen Alleman, shared three common reasons projects get in trouble, whether it’s late, over budget or incomplete.
When you prioritize your projects properly, you’re making the decision to face the brutal facts.
Smart teams accept reality as it is instead of what it could be. They learn things they need to know, using that information to prioritize their projects. All-stars understand this intuitively.
Prioritizing depends on a system. When it comes to prioritizing projects, which one is most effective?
The priority matrix is used to differentiate between the urgent and important. It shows busy professionals like yourself how to manage their time and prioritize their projects.
This matrix helps teams to sort through a heavy workload quickly.
In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto was studying the unequal distribution of wealth in his country. He discovered that just 20 percent of causes contributed to 80 percent of the outcomes.
What’s surprising about this principle is the fact that it applies to a wide variety of industries and circumstances – including project management.
The pickle jar theory is a time management framework that’s typically taught using a pickle jar. You fill an empty pickle jar with rocks or golf balls, until it looks full. Then you fill it with gravel. Finally, you add sand and water taking up the remaining space.
This analogy or framework uses a top-down approach, tackling the bigger and more important details in a project first.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow argued that human motivation stemmed from fulfillment and personal growth. He stressed the importance of matching or tying time management to the needs we have as human beings. He argued that efficient use of our time would lead to greater amounts of fulfillment, growth and well-being.
His research supported the hypothesis that motivation was driven by unmet or unfulfilled needs.
Each of these frameworks attempts to solve the prioritization problem but they’re all facets (or solutions) to the same problem.
These frameworks work well but they’re only a small part of the story. When you’re able to prioritize, you focus on the details that matter to you and your team. Details like…
That’s a problem. When it comes to priority frameworks, which one do you focus on? Which one gets your attention first?
You focus on all of them. You treat each of these frameworks as facets on a diamond, parts of a whole. You focus your time and attention on the facets that best fit your situation.
See what I did there?
Using the right framework means accepting the reality of your situation.
The Eisenhower priority matrix shows you how to prioritize, accept or reject incoming work. The pickle jar theory keeps your priorities in check; it keeps the majority of your time focused on the details that matter most. Keeping your time and attention fixed on the details that matters most keeps you in line with Maslow’s theory. This gives you the fulfillment and growth you need to be happy.
Frameworks are useful but they can’t prevent bad habits.
There’s a large segment of the population who believe they’re exceptional multitaskers. They’re quick to discuss these frameworks; it’s not uncommon to hear these people bragging about their ability to multitask.
But is that really the case?
If you’re an exceptional multi-tasker you’re probably not too happy with me right now.
That’s because real multi-taskers actually exist.
These are the people who, without training or experience, are able to handle a completely foreign set of tasks. They can juggle multiple to-do’s at once. Even better, they’re able to do it without sacrificing quality or speed.
The research is actually pretty clear, if you’re multitasking you’re paying a heavy, heavy price.
You’re dealing with…
What does this mean for you? Multitasking makes everything worse. Decreases performance, increases cognitive load and fouls up your projects.
“When my boss or manager rushes in he’s usually in a panic. His boss has just added to his workload, scope creep is beginning to move down the chain. He doesn’t have a choice, do the work, make the change or pay the price.”
He’s doing what he has to do to stay afloat.
We get it.
And you know what? It sucks. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Getting decision-makers to define the purpose, desires and goals gives everyone clarity. It’s a checklist you can use to eliminate distractions and reduce dysfunction.
It works best when it comes from the top.
When decision-makers are involved projects are easy to prioritize. When things begin to go off track (as they inevitably will) you can find your way back – if you know where you’re going. These ingredients give you the tools you need to prioritize and win, if you know how to use them.
What if they go out of their way to avoid, evade or ignore your requests?
You educate your team and ask for help.
You get colleagues to rephrase your request.
You make your request completely about your decision makers.
You make yourself indispensable to the team.
Start at the beginning. Define your purpose, desires and goals – the business, project, and personal levels. It takes work, but it eliminates the inevitable frustration and pain that follows.
Then, you use your frameworks.
Treat them as parts of a whole. Choose the right tools for the job and you’ll find these frameworks work together.
Initially, Healthcare.gov crashed and burned. The good news is they were able to recover and it all started with their priorities. Your project doesn’t have to crash and burn. Prioritize your projects you’ll find…
Success becomes the norm.
See why you should stick to numbers for Excel, and what you’re missing by not having a project management solution.