The Manager's First Role: Prioritization [grid::brand]


At a recent presentation, (Managing the Management Balancing Act) I discussed the problems of multi-tasking. I received this feedback:

Johanna, I have to say that I think you are off the path in terms of “multiple projects.”

1) Organizations just don’t work this way – it isn’t cost-effective.

2) Today’s emerging workforce (20-30) were raised in an environment that was not FIFO. It’s multi-in, multi-out.

If you can prioritize projects and sub-divide the work, these people are fantastic “multi-project” testers. Looking around the room this morning, I see many young faces, raised with multi-tasking as the norm. I think you need to update your thinking.

Oh dear. When I read this feedback, I was sure this was an unseasoned manager, assuming he/she was encountering these problems for the first time. Unfortunately, multi-tasking has been around since people had more than one thing to do 🙂

In a recent Software Development article I discussed the true costs of multitasking (as have Hal and Esther and I in our blogs). This manager doesn’t seem to understand the costs; he/she sees the apparent completion of work.

As I reflected more on this, I realized that I believe each manager has the job of prioritizing the work as his/her first role. If you know what you’re supposed to deliver to the organization, you can select the people and organize the work to succeed. If you never choose what to deliver to the organization, you can never fail as a manager. Of course, you can never succeed either, because there’s always too much to do. But you can certainly never fail. Until the whole organization fails.

Managers who never reassess their work prioritization are inadequate managers. Managers who take on the work the organization requests (or demands) and who don’t prioritize are inadequate managers. Organizations that don’t rank their work will fail.

If you’re a manager, first prioritize your group’s work. Then assign it. Monitor the flow and the organization’s priorities. It’s not easy, and it’s necessary.

One Reply to “The Manager's First Role: Prioritization [grid::brand]”

  1. Have you heard from anyone who said multi-tasking did work for them? I’ve tried it and I did’t like it. I spent 1/2 day on each project. It took too long to get back up to speed each time I changed. I think part of the problem here is also semantics. Sure, when I answer the phone and keep typing email I’m multi-tasking, but it’s on the same project. Maybe what we need is a new term here like “multi-project-ing”. (The verbing noun cops will be after me now!)

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