Prioritizing and sequencing are not the same things

Posted by Marcus Hammarberg on October 17, 2019
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Having an (any) work in process (WIP) limit to your workload is the best way I know to improve speed, quality and focus on value in what we do. This goes for individuals, teams and whole organizations alike.

As you apply a limit of how many things you will work on at the same time, you very soon will start to prioritize among your work. (Psst - I’ll let you in on a secret: if you don’t have limit you still prioritise, because at any one given time you are only working on a thing … but that is a topic for another post)

Being nudged to do this prioritization is a Good Thing (TM) if you let it. It starts moving you towards knowing WHY you are doing something NOW and away from ensuring that you are kept busy (or keeping people busy)

Ok but inevitable very soon we enter into the land of prioritization, and before long you will hear the laments;

Prioritizing is hard

Who does the prioritization here?

We need to get better in prioritizing, that is the only problem we have really?

I think there’s a misconception at the core of what prioritizing means (or at least how it is used). In this post, I wanted to clarify one distinction

Prioritization and sequencing are not the same thing

I write this on an airplane and cannot check for the true meaning of the words, so this will be from my understanding, but I will double-check after I’ve published it and see how wrong I was.

Prioritization, for me, is mostly about deciding what we should say No to. What is left is the things that we find important. We can also make a prioritized list, but that is treading into the danger zone of confusing it with sequencing.

Narrator; Marcus finished the post on the ground and the true meaning of priority is:

the fact or condition of being regarded or treated as more important than others.

and hence prioritization means:

the action or process of deciding the relative importance or urgency of a thing or thing

Prioritization has to do with the relative value, for some value of the things we are doing.

Sequencing, on the other hand, has to do with which order of things. This order might be, for example, the order that we will DO things in - aka planning. It might have to do with the value of the things we are doing. But, not seldom, we might decide to do things in a very different order than that what is most valuable; there might be dependencies to others, missing resources and even political reasons to do things in another order.

Narrator; Marcus was not far off:

arrange in a particular order.

I’ve found great value in keeping these two topics separate when we discuss priority and sequencing. By doing this we both get simple questions to discuss for both aspects, but also a more honest discussion about not doing the most valuable thing first.

I presume that most of you knew this already, but it made a huge difference at one of my clients and I’m thinking that I will get back here again myself.


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