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How to cure priority madness?

Joint work Piotr Cwalina, Wiktoria Kuc HRD Symfonia

It has been a remarkable two years.

2020 – a pandemic, a synthetic indicator of the current situation peaking downwards. Huge business
fears, a situation of extreme uncertainty. Many companies were building scenarios for when the
economy collapsed. Intoxicated into working and learning remotely practically overnight, difficulty
adapting to the new situation.

How did it end, what were the effects of the pandemic revolution? The economy shot upwards. A
new standard of work took hold for good – remote working, hybrid working, the possibility of much
better time management. Companies were hiring – portals such as Pracuj.pl swelled with the number
of job ads. Companies were embarking on new initiatives with a sense of needing the here and now,
because who knows when the next pandemic will come? 2021 was a year of growth.

In 2022, many organisations began to face a different challenge.


With growth, many organisations have started to see an increasing number of projects, priorities and
initiatives. Too many priorities means a lack of focus on the most important, strategic goals and less
efficiency. Important projects tend to involve the most competent, and therefore often key staff.
Consequently, these key resources are highly exploited. In the words of one interviewee: “key
resources are always overstretched”. The trainers observed an increased interest in strategy
workshops to help companies identify what is actually most important. Which projects can be
postponed and which can perhaps be abandoned altogether? Many companies get bogged down in
this, trying to complete everything, regardless of the fact that the cost (primarily human) is high.

Pocovid uncertainty and business FOMO

To better understand the problem, it is worth considering the causes of the phenomenon.

The rapid pace of change – the world has accelerated significantly, the number of changes and the
overall uncertainty is very high. Many organisations try to adapt to changing conditions by adding
new tasks, priorities to existing ones. Often, they do not revise their strategy – they only micro-level
add priorities. As a result, the strategic direction becomes blurred, everything is important. What
does this mean at a macro level? Organisations get lost in a maze of tasks and priorities and nothing
is delivered.

The world won’t slow down – we have to learn to be agile.
Fuzzy or miscommunicated strategy – this is another pebble to the chaos of priorities. This often
manifests itself in a bottom-up approach to delivery. Employees eagerly grasp at tasks that do not
necessarily lead to profitable activities at all, sometimes dealing with micro changes that are relevant
to them. The question is, are they really important to the organisation? After a while, the company
gets lost in their activities and loses direction.

Fear of missing their opportunity – some organisations are afraid of missing their opportunity. In
uncertain times, opportunities close for some and open for others. What usually leads astray? A lack
of reflection on what will give us the greatest advantage in the new reality, a belief that resources
are made of rubber and overburdening people with work. This, after a period of euphoria for the
team, leads to burnout and increasing chaos in achieving the goal.

How to manage priorities

There are many ways and methodologies for dealing with over-prioritisation. One variable is certainly
the management style and culture of the company. The chairman of one large IT company said
bluntly: I decide on priorities. This approach is now rare. Most organisations are moving away from
this kind of management towards a turquoise, consensual and egalitarian culture. In addition, a new
generation is coming into the picture, for whom a directive way of management is unacceptable.
Abandoning directivity on the one hand, and on the other: do we know how to do it non-directively
but effectively?

Authoritarian method

The board/director authoritatively decides which activities are priorities and which should be
postponed or closed.

Clean sheet method

That is: if we had no projects today, what would we open first?

Project condition

We start by evaluating the projects, asking ourselves: what is the condition of the currently ongoing
projects? Which are going according to plan, which are limping along? Which involve the greatest
amount of resources? Which ones support our unique value? Which projects are falling behind gives
our competitors an advantage? Based on the answers to these questions, we create a scoring that
reveals the true priorities.

Who is pulling the strings?

It is worth asking: who is pulling the strings when choosing priorities? The importance of projects
increases when the stakeholder is important – but does this automatically mean that they really
should be at the top of the list?

Survival method

Cuts projects that are not needed for the survival of the company in terms of reference to the
competition. Depending on the period and the condition of the company, growth or profitability
targets are chosen.

Apriority leap

Determining at the beginning of the financial year which emerging projects automatically jump to the
top of the priority list and others are frozen. For example: during a period when the company is
investing in aggressive growth, these will be M&A projects and integrations with acquired

The hairy method

What is our organisation’s goal in 10, 20 years’ time? What is our Big Hairy Am Audacious Goal?
Which current priority actually supports this strategic, long-term goal?

Did you know that priority is a word coined in the 14th century from the Latin word prior, meaning
first, and meant the most important thing. So one! This was the case until the early 20th century,
after which people began to use the plural. Why did this happen? The pace of life was and still is
increasing. Multitasking has also emerged, the age of digitalisation is pushing us into the plural even
more. So does anyone still remember the original meaning of the word priority?

If you look at the original meaning of the word priority, it gave much more certainty and focus. Today
we can even get loopy when priorities are mutually exclusive! Oh horror how is this possible? E.g. We
are supposed to increase customer satisfaction and at the same time we have a priority to cut costs
in spending on, among other things, this satisfaction. Is this possible? But are we to choose for
ourselves what we will do. Where is the logic and original simplicity of the priority.

So you can see that the process of choosing priorities is not easy, especially when the organisation is
overloaded with projects. Instead, it is worth asking yourself the above questions, thinking about
which technique can help your organisation. Without stopping the priority madness, organisations
will be ineffective and perhaps not even achieve that one priority!

We thank the interviewees who shared their methods:

Katarzyna Kugaudo

Tomek Pyda

Piotr Ferszke

Łukasz Jęczmiński

Sebastian Błażkiewicz

And others.

If you need expert support in sorting out strategic priorities, introducing metrics (KPIs) – contact me.

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