When Priorities Outweigh Resources

What do you do when you have more priorities on your plate than you have resources to manage or that can be executed well?   Over the years, you have said “yes” to so many projects and requests and the expectations are that you can continue to deliver on these priorities even during the economic recovery with fewer staff and higher stress levels.  You have vented with co-workers and brought your anguish home to share with family members and friends. It’s time to make some hard decisions about where to focus your energy and resources, and what to dis-invest from.

So how do you begin this process after you recognize that some of these priorities are tied to your co-workers’, boss, clients’ or family’s interests, and just old habits you’ve been addicted to for a long time? How do you remove the emotional and subjective aspects that impede making the right decisions? You clearly need a way to assess the priorities fairly and objectively.

Last month I worked with a regional division of a federal agency that was faced with making these hard decisions. The division was struggling with meeting diverse expectations to manage multiple projects with reduced resources. With reduced budgets, an external hiring freeze, and recent and imminent retirements, division staff resources were stretched beyond its limits and it was clear that quality performance was no longer sustainable.

I introduced them to the Priority Matrix concept to explore how this tool could help division leaders assess each program using the same agreed-upon evaluation factors. First, the team identified, quantified and agreed on the factors to evaluate programs. They ‘tested’ these factors on several programs to see if the same factors could be used to evaluate seemingly different programs. After some factor tweaking, they agreed to use the tool to conduct a full program analysis to create a program priority ranking and determine where to invest and disinvest resources over the next year.

Once the Program Priority Matrix was developed, division leaders can then assess staff resources and realign these resources to ensure that the Region will focus on the right priorities at the right time. Perhaps some of the current and imminent position vacancies will not be filled even when the economy improves and the hiring freezes are lifted. And there is a process and insight on where resources are needed and special hiring needs are warranted.

Bringing Kaizen concepts into the public sector: continuous improvement, managing change, and using resources efficiently. I love it!