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Recently, I wrote a blog on keeping task lists super simple. I mentioned that I’m always focused on what’s important now. Various writers and coaches have abbreviated this as WIN – and suggested that focusing on what’s most important now is one key to success.

But if you are working with teams, how can you all quickly figure out what’s important now for the team? In this blog, I outline several different scenarios and offer a suggestion for each. But more importantly, I toss out a lot of questions for you to ask yourself. In my experience, teams that continue exploring broad questions, particularly during project execution, do a better job of ensuring that their companies remain competitive, efficient, and effective.

Focusing on what's IMPORTANT now to help guide your team: How can you quickly figure out what’s important? #smartprojex #teammanagement #projectmanagement #team Share on X

Are your teams working for multiple clients?

When a team works for multiple clients, it has the extra challenge of weighing competing needs between client requests. Here are some choices you might make.

  • Do you build this client’s website first because it’s been in your queue longer?
  • Or do you fix another client’s bug first because the bug has shut down needed functionality?
  • Perhaps you prefer to prioritize another client’s quick and easy request rather than the tough and complex task that you planned to do?
  • Do you work this patient or client in to your busy schedule because they are in serious distress?
  • Or do you adjust the busy schedule by moving another appointment to a different day?

There will be trade-offs that you have to make, and it’s always a judgement call. I can’t give you a one-shot answer on how to ascertain what’s important now. Depriving your teams of needed sleep is not the answer. Building processes that work well during rapid change will alleviate some of these challenges in the long-term, particularly frequent problems. I believe that knowing your clients helps immensely. It may be important to meet daily or weekly to talk through your challenges.

Consider the size of your organization, the number of competing priorities that you are juggling every week, and the number of clients that are presenting you with challenges. Do you have a few smaller clients that always seem to be distracting you from critical work for a much larger client? Have you communicated how you work well to your clients?

When a team works for multiple clients, it's sometimes hard to determine the priority of tasks. Here are a few tips to help! #smartprojex #teammanagement #projectmanagement #team Share on X

Is this operational work or project work?

Typically, you must prioritize the work that is keeping the lights on, so to speak. If you are the project manager and your team members are getting distracted by requests for operational work, consider some conversations about how projects are staffed. And work towards getting people to commit to deadlines.

For an example, consider a project for a large entity where the work is shared between outside consultants and in-house experts, leaders, and executives. It’s likely that none of those folks are working full-time on the project. All of them are going to get distracted by other operational work or clients. Work won’t always get delivered like you hoped. But why not? Are operational needs becoming a crisis? Are your teams even trying to focus on what’s most important now? Or, is poor performance from someone on the team the real problem? You’re going to need to do some detective work.

Several strategies to consider

  • When you are dealing with senior people, make friends with those who work under them, particularly the administrative assistants. A quick phone call to an assistant can often resolve a problem, or at least get the issue on the executive’s radar screen. That said, I wouldn’t go behind your contact’s back. I would explain that it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to keep the project moving and you have experience that shows that organizational leaders can get busy and need help. Most people appreciate a genuine offer to help.
  • Work in short, perhaps, two-week sprints. From the beginning of each sprint, seek commitments from everyone on the team to deliver certain pieces of work by the end of the sprint. It may help if their work is needed for something that is going to senior leadership. While people might be willing to disappoint the project leader, they don’t want to disappoint a CEO.
  • Consider check-ins or standing meetings with some frequency – just to keep the energy going.
  • And perhaps, you could set up some game like dashboards or texting threads to promote accomplishments.
Several strategies to consider to help keep your team going! #teammanagement #projectmanagement #team #smartprojex Share on X

Do you have a triage system in place?

In a hospital, there is a system in place to evaluate the degree of urgency on the patients that have arrived at the hospital. You need a similar system in your offices and on your teams to assess the urgency of the work that presents itself every day. I’ll discus two different examples. And if you are interested in more information on using triage tactics to figure out what’s important now, check out Dr. Deborah Munro’s blog titled Eight Steps to Project Triage for a few ideas.

Construction Example:

You are the onsite project manager for an expensive home being built for one of your company’s clients. Some of the work is being outsourced to local subcontractors while a small team of carpenters, electricians, and plumbers are on the staff for emergencies.

What system does the company use for managing its construction projects? Does the company have a defined process for dealing with weather issues, supply chain breakdowns, and clients with change requests? You need a process at the company level.

While the project manager is onsite, and rightfully focused on his/her project, some problems could be coming from company-wide conflicts. For example, was the project manager counting on in-house carpenters to fix issues before painters can do their work? Or, was one of your subs pulled to work on another home that is running farther behind? What can the project manager do?

I’m never one to underestimate the importance of communication and defined processes. Is the project manager focused on project risks, cost management, and defining resource needs and expectations?

Manufacturing example:

You are the project manager for a design and manufacturing company that produces household appliances. You are managing several different projects, with multiple teams, that run the gamut between irons and ovens. Most of the people on these teams are part-time on any one project. So, how do you balance competing needs between projects? How do you prioritize in-house project activities against competing in-house projects and/or operational needs?

If you did a good job at defining the priorities on each project when you originally scoped them, this will come in handy. And understanding the stakeholder perspectives on each project will help. You might well need to pick up the phone and make a few calls, but you can do that. The trick is to identify, at the beginning of each project sprint, those activities which have the highest client value.

Typically, I encourage teams to stay focused on the work that was identified at the beginning of your sprints and deliver what you promised, when you promised it. If a crisis comes up that points to a change in direction mid-sprint, evaluate the root cause of that crisis. Is a top-level executive turning a failure to plan or communicate into the team’s crisis? Has something happened with a strategic or competitive shift? Once you understand the cause of the crisis, you can better figure out how to respond.

There is no magic bullet to figuring out what’s important now. And sometimes, there are no right answers. Do you have a suggestion that works for you that you can share in the comments?