Getting Your Priorities Straight

It’s the best and worst time to be a marketing leader. So many options and opportunities. And, on the flip side, more pressure than ever to deliver results—and do it fast. 

For most of us, the demands of the day-to-day are relentless. The fact that you’re reading this means you are likely ready to take action to manage the onslaught of meetings and to-do items. It probably also means you and your team are feeling some of the following:

• The workload is getting hard to manage.
• Everything feels like a top priority.
• It’s not completely clear how all the activity is impacting goals.
• It’s difficult to assess new opportunities … is this worth doing?

Here’s the good news: there’s a better way. And it’s not that difficult. At its essence, effective prioritization boils down to three things:

1) Involving the right people.
2) Identifying the right tool for the job.
3) Using that tool with diligence and discipline.

More good news: the upsides of effective prioritization are substantial. The Pareto Principle tells us that 20% of our efforts deliver 80% of the results. Mastering the art of prioritization gives you the power to ensure that your team is not just busy, but busy doing what matters most.

Follow these six steps to bring the power of prioritization to your team.

Step 1: Pick Your Team. The ideal group for a team or department-level prioritization exercise will be a balanced mix of people in these categories (on smaller teams, a single person may fit into more than one category):

• Decision-making authority: These people have the power to make the call. 
• Expertise: These people have knowledge and skills in key areas. 
• Front-line insights: These are the people who will execute the things you’re prioritizing.

Step 2: Define Your Options. Before you can choose the most impactful actions, you need to list every option in front of you. To make sure you’ve got a complete list, start with all of the options you’ve already considered. Then, do some fresh ideation—perhaps a survey followed by a carefully-structured brainstorming session. 

Step 3: Choose Your Framework. This step is crucial. The right framework depends on three questions:

• What is being prioritized? Are you prioritizing tactics or larger-scale strategic actions?
• How much rigor is required? Do you need to crunch numbers or is a lightweight approach better?
• How versed in prioritization are you? Are you a newbie or a seasoned pro?

Once you answer these questions, picking from the multitude of available frameworks becomes much easier. The most-popular frameworks our clients use are:

• Stop, Start, Continue: Retrospective in nature. Good for decisions that are strategic, yet relatively simple.
• MoSCoW: Ideal for sorting through a mix of tactical and strategic choices.
• Weighted Scorecard: A solid fit for strategic choices that demand some real rigor.
• The Eisenhower Matrix: Helps you consider relatively simple choices based on urgency and importance.

Step 4: Define Your Criteria. Whatever method you use, prioritization relies on a clear definition of what makes a specific activity valuable. If you’re working as a group, define the criteria together. Between four and seven points is generally ideal.

Step 5: Define Your Process. Now it’s time to plan your approach for putting your framework and criteria into practice. How will the process be set up? How will it be managed? What can be done now to turn prioritization into an ongoing practice instead of merely a one-off?

Step 6: Start Prioritizing! If you follow all of the previous steps, you’re setting yourself up to succeed when it comes to actually making decisions. Though potential pitfalls still exist. In closing, here are few tips to avoid them:

• Someone needs to own the prioritization process. Without a clear owner, it will never happen.
• Resist the urge to make this a one-and-done initiative. Prioritization works best when you dedicate time to it and turn it into a habit, whether you’re doing it alone or as a team.
• As new opportunities arise, run them through the framework to keep your workload manageable and avoid needless distractions. 

This post is adapted from Do This First: A Prioritization Workbook for Marketing Leaders—available for free download here

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