Chapter 70. Priority Exceptions

Beau Lebens

Constantly changing priorities and surprise projects erode team morale and leave everyone unsure of whether they’re working on the most important thing, or whether they’ll ever get to finish anything. Even though being adaptable and flexible is critical for most teams, it’s always important to have some kind of roadmap and approach to prioritization and planning work. There are many different ways to plan and prioritize your work; what’s important is that when priorities change—and they will change—you acknowledge that change and adapt quickly.

If you don’t clearly acknowledge the change in plans, your team can start to question the point of the plan in the first place. They’ll begin to wonder whether they are expected to do this new thing and the old thing, or just the new thing, or because the new thing is not in the plan, perhaps the team should actually ignore it? Don’t leave room for interpretation. Clearly set expectations and make sure you communicate unambiguously what is being asked of them. Sometimes, your team needs to be given clear “permission” to really work on this new thing, and delay or drop the old thing.

On my teams, we use a process we call a Priority Exception to clearly address a major change in our plans. This process is used when we had a plan of work, and for some reason something not on that plan jumps to the next most important thing for us to work on. The goal is to acknowledge the change, clearly communicate ...

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