by Leon Rosenshein


I’ve talked about priority before. And how priorities inflate. Even the opposite of priority. Lots of different ways to keep track of what’s important and how the importance of one relates to another. There’s a little bit about how you prioritize, and some about how you track priority, but nothing about the cultural context you make priority decisions on.

Consider these two approaches to the exact same problem:

"In a world of abundant opportunities we need to pick the best one to pursue next."

"In a world of scarce time we need to decide how to carefully allocate our overtaxed people."

    -- Michael Nygard

The scarcity is capacity. There is more potential work than there is capacity to do it. In all but the extremest situations capacity is fixed. Short term you can overwork and risk burnout. Long term you can add capacity. But right now, the capacity you have is the capacity you have. The question is, how to approach the issue? What potential work do you convert into work to be done, and what work do you leave in it’s potential state?

How to do the actual prioritization is not the question for today. That’s about minimizing WIP or important/urgent decisions. The question for today is the mindset going into the discussion. 

Are you looking to maximize the potential reward or minimize the potential cost of failure? It’s about risk/reward. What are the real risks? What is the real risk for each choice? What is the real upside? Remember, the quality of your decision is not defined by the outcome.

And making rational decisions is something people are notoriously bad at. Check your biases. Sunk costs. Gambler’s fallacy. False dichotomies. Slippery slopes. All ways to convince yourself (and others) that you’re making a logical choice when you’re responding out of fear.

So when you’re prioritizing, make sure you know which way you’re approaching it, and why.