Three Tips for Deciding What’s Most Important 1

Guest Post by Suzanne S. Davenport

I recently woke to searing eye pain and my husband was forced to call an eye doctor at 6 am on a Sunday morning. After examination, the doctor confirmed an earlier diagnosis of recurrent corneal erosion syndrome. I quickly realized that the filmy vision resulting from using an ointment medication four times a day was the least of my problems.

My eyes simply hurt too much to work in front of a computer. Thinking was fine, but since I am a visual person and process my thoughts by writing them down, even thinking was less than productive, and it certainly didn’t count as executing activities.

Being forced to close my eyes is a reminder to focus on what is most important. When I watch teams working on projects, I am often struck by the energy and enthusiasm (not to mention money) that is put into the wrong activities. The problem starts at the top.

Does the project align with the organization’s strategic plan? Has the team fully analyzed the what, why, where, when, and how, or are they just executing activities? Is the team following a carefully crafted schedule or periodically looking for better ways of accomplishing the project objective?

So, what is most important? The classic MBA answer is that it depends. But that’s not very helpful. It depends on your life, your project, and your team culture. Building a team culture characterized by accountability, along with the use of effective project management tools and personal productivity tools that work in a crisis, allows you and your team to move forward effectively.

In the meantime, here are three tips for individuals and teams.

  1. Regularly ask questions to help insure that you and your team(s) are directing efforts into what is most important. Why are we doing the project? Why are we doing this activity? What quality is needed on the activity, and will the client pay for it? What risks are likely to materialize if we proceed as planned? Can we afford this?
  2. Hold standing meetings daily, if possible. A standing meeting is a very short meeting, during which each member of the team states what she did during the previous day, what she plans to do today, and what problems she has had. Problems are not solved or discussed during this meeting; the project manager can address problems later. When individuals report to each other daily on what they are doing, it builds accountability and provides a safe environment to disclose problems early, before they derail your project. When someone on the team is suddenly faced with a crisis, the team can quickly re-adjust effectively.
  3. Stay flexible in your execution. Schedules are vastly over-rated, and simply represent the result of a well-managed project. Globally, teams are increasingly working in a knowledge economy, unlike the machine economy of years gone by. With the growth of the Internet, knowledge is increasing exponentially, and the rate of change on projects can only be expected to continue. So flexibility is required, and using a Gantt chart to rigidly manage a project schedule may be analogous to using a saw to perform surgery.

Productivity systems and project tools are great, but sometimes life just gets in the way. It is what we do when our systems fail us that matters most. That applies to both individuals and teams. It doesn’t really matter whether the people on your team are facing a personal crisis or a work crisis; having an effective, supportive, and responsible team culture will go a long way towards ensuring that projects are completed on time, on budget, and in a way that meets the customer’s needs.

About Suzanne
Suzanne S. Davenport is the owner of Smart Projex Inc., a web-based tool for managing complex team projects needing open communications and a flexible execution. She is interested in reinventing project management for a knowledge economy. She has her MBA, is a certified project manager (PMP and CSM), and has served in management at a large bank and in a healthcare startup. To learn more, reach out to her through her website or on Twitter at @smartprojex.

About Daniel Gold

Daniel Gold is a productivity coach, keynote speaker, author, and podcaster. He is most well known for his eBooks, Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done, Simplify your Life with Springpad, and Make it Happen: How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your eBook. Daniel is also the co-host of the GTD® Virtual Study Group podcast.