September 6, 2017

Prioritize, especially when everything is a priority

We know the feeling of being overwhelmed, opening your channels to figure out your priorities only to find everything is red and you don’t know where to start. Quite frankly, there is no textbook method to prioritize because, at the end of the day, it all depends. But depends on what exactly? Sometimes it’s your drive, or maybe your main goals. And sometimes, your current circumstances are the basis of your decisions.

What to prioritize for the most impact?

Would deploying feature X before Y give more value to your customers and keep them hooked for the next update? If the answer is yes then your priorities are pretty clear. The problems start when you don’t quite know which features to develop first. Or what task to do and get it over with first. This is when impact comes in.

The best way to deal with this is to ask yourself: how far ahead would doing this get us? What other mini issues will it solve? How much impact would this specific task make on the overall progress? Etc. When you're tied by deadlines, advancing fast is your biggest priority. So you want to organize yourself in that sense. This brings us to the second point.

What to prioritize based on close deadlines?

Deadlines exist for the sole reason of notifying you of the urgency of the task. It may seem easy and quite logical to organize yourself based on what’s due first. But the assumption here is: everything has a clear fixed deadline. No variable. No predicaments. And definitely no dependencies. But, if product management was as such, we wouldn’t be discussing this issue to begin with, would we? The problem is that, while some tasks have clear deadlines. You can’t mess with release dates or official meeting or regular updates. The other tasks, however, are quite flexible. Sometimes it’s because of their nature, other times it’s because they depend on other tasks validation. And sometimes, they just get pushed down because of unexpected yet still urgent tasks. It happens. But then again, how to prioritize in such dynamic environment?

What to prioritize based on circumstances?

New crazes come and go. One day everyone is in love with email, the next is the rise of Slack. Before you know it, email is too old school and now you have to adapt before everyone jumps on the next big thing. Better yet, this struggle is not just on the business side. Due to the dynamics of the entrepreneurial world today, any company can pivot and create your exact same product. Except they’ve already made a name for themselves and now you might be put out of business if you don’t strike back and fight for your piece of the pie. Due to such changes, you’ll need to prioritize to either join the hype, be a pioneer in what you do, or literally, keep your business up and running! This gets me to my final point.

What to prioritize to get the business going?

Every company, be it a giant or a brand new startup, has its own pillars. It was created because there was a pain and no one was solving it properly, if any. It exists for a reason and that reason is the main engine of the product team. They need to always keep their mission at the back of their heads. You need to make sure that you prioritize what’s driving the company towards its main goals. Yes, there will be noise, cool ideas to try out, suspicious potential competitors, constructive feedback, theories to consider, etc. But as long as you never lose focus of the bigger picture, of where you want to take the company, prioritizing will become a piece of cake. Or not.To prioritize or not to prioritize. A question every PM will keep asking themselves when facing any decision or creating a new ticket. The dilemma is there. What you can do about it, however, is another story.