How many top priorities do you have?

by C. Villefrance Moeller, TalesOfLeading

“All our KPI’s are here,” he said as we walked into a room with whiteboards on three walls leaving only space for the door and a single window. “We have meetings here once a week to make sure we are on the right track,” he continued. The quality manager was showing me around on the manufacturing site and now we had to go out of the building to see where they hold their status meetings. The room was in a temporary building almost the same size as two containers on top of each other. I found it rather strange that they had hidden what they meant to visualize. I took a closer look at the board and was puzzled by what I saw: “Where’s your status on manufacturing?” “We don’t need that. As soon as an order is ready for manufacturing, we just expect it to be delivered. It’s more important for us to see the status on orders in the pipeline from construction,” he answered.

Prioritizing or just numbering the problems

“This is where we can see our most important quality problems,” he explained pointing at a long list of problems they needed to solve “the numbers are priorities, the initials show who’s responsible and the dates are deadlines.” I looked at the board. The same initials was written next to three out of four of the problems and most of them was numbered “1”. “How does this man know which problem he has to solve first?” I asked. “All of these problems with “1” in priority is the most important for him to work on,” the quality manager explained patiently. “Poor guy” I thought and wondered if he was being dragged from one problem to the next without getting a chance to solve any of them.

Incapable is not incompetent

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to meet the poor guy responsible of solving the top priorities on the list. I have no reason to doubt his competencies. Usually you would give the most important problems to the most competent people you have. However, I am not sure, that the management team had considered his capacity. There is some uncertainty about solving problems. You have to analyse and understand it first before you can implement a countermeasure. Therefore, any given deadlines are wishful thinking. You usually expect a status by then and the deadline can be adjusted when it turns out to be a more complicated or time consuming problem. But, can you imagine the guy standing week after week explaining why a problem has not been solved as if this was his problem? And this is just the problems they had chosen to show on the boards. They didn’t show the problems in manufacturing.

Choosing what NOT to do

When prioritizing it must mean doing one thing before another and maybe even choose something you should not do. That is difficult isn’t it? Prioritizing is also choosing which customers who will need to wait and that is frightening for a management team. They might not know the consequences of a choice like that. However, that is also the consequence of not making the decision up front. The account manager responsible for the customer will have to hand over an unpleasant message to his client. He can then be tempted to try to get the problem solved anyway by shortcutting the line of commands. Then the fight for problem solving resources has begun. Does that speed up things? No, it will just make things worse.

Questions for you

  • How many top priorities do you have on your list?
  • What prevents you from finishing one thing at a time?
  • What would you choose not to do?

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