Pandemic planning provides priorities

“If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”
Jim Collins 

One of the many things that the COVID response has proven is just how much can get done when there are focused priorities. Teams are delivering high quality outcomes, at pace, all over the place. Organisations are solving problems that were considered impossible mere weeks ago. For the most part it is the same people making these things happen as these organisations had available to them pre-COVID but suddenly now people are successfully shipping all over the public service and beyond.

It is unfortunate that it has taken a pandemic to shine a light on this.

One of the most frustrating things I have encountered since I became a consultant is the growing awareness of just how terrible organisations are at prioritising things – certainly in the public sector (but my recent private sector experiences suggest it is a thing there as well). 

I have stopped talking about things like OKRs with our public sector clients for a couple of reasons but the main one is simply if there are no real priorities there is no way to really deliver successful outcomes because everyone has their attention split and is waiting for the next change of direction.

It becomes a game of politics ahead of priorities. Teams are spread thin, teams don’t understand why they are doing certain things, teams know that the rug can be pulled at any time without warning…and not just in times of a genuine crisis.

As a product person raised on things like MoSCoW and RICE it is hard to accept the lack of a clear direction provided sometimes – trying to carve your own clear path for a team in a forest of ambiguity takes a toll.

It doesn’t even mean that you only take on the priority work – it just means that when there is a trade-off needed the choice is clear and the decisions are quick.

Equally important is once you have priorities you need to stick with them a while. Chopping and changing them after every gust of wind makes them as worthless as going back to having none.

Prioritise. Commit. Persevere.

I really hope this is one of the lessons that sticks from this crisis. That the powers that be see just how much is possible with a clarity of purpose and empowered teams….and that next time it doesn’t take quite such a threat to provide the clarity.

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