Does Your Organization Need Glasses?

June 2, 2009 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

How To Approach Corporate Prioritization Like An Optometrist

You have an idea…no, wait…you have a great idea!  An idea that will revolutionize your industry/fix a customer’s problem/solve a major business need.  Yes!  This is the type of idea that forms the foundation of a best selling business book.  Career made.  Success assured.  

There’s only one small, tiny hurdle…your idea requires other resources, most likely cross-functional resources that you don’t directly manage.  Your idea needs to be rationalized against other corporate priorities.  Ugh.

From large enterprise to small business, we all have some derivative of the corporate prioritization meeting; where projects are reviewed and resourced.  Euphemize it any way we like:  ‘steering committee’, ‘strategic board’, ‘operational excellence’, etc. the meeting is usually a poorly structured debate with participants focused on promoting the merits of individual ideas and lobbying for resources.

 

So What’s This About Corporate Optometry?

Corporate prioritization is extremely difficult; there are usually a number of good ideas (well sure…there are some head-shakers) all competing for the same, limited resources.  In order to achieve productive agreement, we need collective focus.  Following that concept, I believe that corporate prioritization should be like a trip to the optometrist.  I know…an optometry analogy…but stay with me on this one.

The Patient

The usual suspects – key stakeholders of any prioritization meeting (department heads, executive leadership, management teams, board, etc.).

The Optometrist

Key operational leaders; the people that manage and drive the execution of projects.

The Prioritization Process

In order to bring collective focus to resource allocation, I believe that corporate prioritization should follow an optometry-like process of assessment and prescription.

 

Assessment

I believe that productive, effective prioritization starts with a foundational understanding and focus on a core set of corporate objectives and goals.  These are the high-level concepts that strategically drive decisions within the organization: Revenue and profit growth, customer satisfaction, employee retention and growth, operational efficiency, thought leadership, shareholder value, etc.

Each targeted outcome (persistent or time-based) has a weighted measure of importance and, as a collection, forms the measurement of success for an organization; much like an optometrist uses an eye chart to measure the relative health of our vision.

Conceptually, we introduce new projects into our organizations in order to create, sustain, or correct success.  However, we sometimes forget what truly defines success for our organization…our vision is a little out of focus. 

In my own career a have lead executive-sanctioned, heavily resources projects that were highly innovative or technically ‘cool’ but were not actually aligned to corporate objectives (surprisingly the board believed ‘revenue and profit’ was more important than ‘technically cool’).  Success in those projects was narrow and its measurement would later need to be defended (never a strong indication of return on investment).  Those projects needed glasses.

A new way to look at the problem of corporate prioritization.

A new way to look at the problem of corporate prioritization.

In the paradigm of prioritization, a ‘corporate eye chart’ would replace letters with a core set of objectives and goals, segmented into levels, which define success for an organization.  Just like vision, an organization has a relative measure of health; in this case success can be hierarchically quantified from 20/200 to 20/10.  Corporate prioritization should always begin with a success assessment; qualitative and quantitative measurements of an organization’s current position against its ‘corporate eye chart’.  How is the organization performing?  And what areas can be impacted or influenced by resourced projects?

Prescription

Following an assessment of an organizations health, areas of opportunity would surface that need to be supported by projects and tactics.  Collectively, a prioritization team would bring focus to these strategic objectives by resourcing the projects that support those goals.

So, at this point, we have:

  1. A corporate eye chart that outlines the success of an organization
  2. An assessment of the success of an organization in achieving the ‘eye chart’ goals
  3. A list of projects

Here is where the operational leaders – our optometrists – play an important role in the prioritization process.  These are the people that know what can get done with the resources that are available. 

Using the knowledge of what work is in progress, what is available to be resourced, and what, operationally, needs to be done to support continued work, the operational leaders can create strategic project scenarios.  So, in a sense, a prioritization team would sit down in that comfy optometrist’s chair and peer at their ‘corporate eye chart’ through a refractor.
Corporate-Prioritization-Refractor
As the prioritization team collectively views their organizational goals, the operational leaders can use strategic project scenarios to illustrate the outcome of possible combinations of work. 

In an example, the following outcomes might be available given the current operational landscape of IT:

Organizational Care and Feeding

Option A:

  • Install server security patches
  • Email server maintenance
  • Complete project documentation
  • Change management process implementation

Option B:

 

  • Install server security patches
  • Optimize website server and database performance
  • Implement new data recovery process

 

Remaining Operational Availability

Development Scenario One:

  • Implement new procurement system
  • Develop custom sales process in CRM
  • Create new transactional eCommerce functionality

Development Scenario Two:

  • Implement marketing automation software
  • Develop web services to talk with customer procurement systems
  • Develop custom sales screens in CRM system
  • Implement customer support ticketing system

The prescription process for corporate priorities should sound quite familiar to many of us; a standard optometry cadence of: “one or two”, “two or one”, “a or b”.  With each combination, the view of the ‘corporate eye chart’, as a whole, changes.  As a result, the group is focused on the overall success of the organization versus independently viewing success at a project level.

The debate among members of a prioritization team should then focus on how the various choices best meet the strategic vision for the organization as a whole.  The team must be committed to this collective review to remove the common – albeit understandable – self-serving bias that often plagues our reasoning and project justification.

Can It Work?

Putting aside the enthralling analogy (biased commentary); the most important concept for us to critically review is the focus we bring to corporate prioritization. 

I think we can make subtle, yet highly impactful improvements to our prioritization processes by:

  1. Collectively defining a core set of organizational goals and objectives
  2. Including that set of organizational goals and objectives in the prioritization process
  3. Allow key operational leaders to build project scenarios
  4. Collectively review and rationalize scenarios against core organizational goals and objectives
  5. Decide which scenarios best define overall success for the organization
  6. Allow operational leaders to execute to that vision

Ultimately, that ‘great idea’ must not only contain tremendous promise, but it must equally and measurable contribute to the overall success vision for the organization.  

In your next prioritization meeting, ask the question: by resourcing this project, does our organizational vision improve or do we lose some clarity on success?

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