I often meet people who claim to be overloaded – too much work, no resources, no time. I also meet people that get extraordinary things done whilst somehow cutting through the noise of overload.
The secret is simply a matter of priority, focus and commitment. What is important is to focus on what matters most and deliver that. Of course, ascertaining what matters most is influenced by context, objectives and the needs and support of other stakeholders.
If you are faced with a complex situation with many competing demands for your time and energy I suggest formulating a simple plan that clearly spells out the situation based on facts and stated assumptions. This is project management 101 and is essential to getting you into a position to raise the awareness of the other stakeholders and negotiate a sensible way ahead.
The old adage “quality, schedule, cost – pick any two” is key here. It’s not rocket science. If there is not enough time then something has to give – remove some scope or add some resources. An evolutionary approach will normally work well if founded on a properly prioritized assessment of scope. Adding resources should enable more stuff to get done but be careful as it also adds complexity. On the other hand, if there are not enough resources then something else will have to give – do less or take longer. Again, a phased approach can help get quick wins on the board and provide valuable information for the phases that follow. Maybe some of the scope is unnecessary or can be delayed – a properly prioritized scope is essential for scheduling and trade-offs. The simple MoSCoW tool is useful here – what Must, Should, Could and Won’t be delivered (and when). Don’t overlook the importance of explicitly stating what won’t be delivered. Managing expectations is critical.
And don’t forget to anticipate the risks and list your assumptions. Remember that assumptions that prove incorrect are risks in disguise. Some form of risk response needs to be incorporated into your strategy. What might happen and what are you going to do to improve your chances of getting the outcome you want? In fact, many of the responses will actually become extra scope and the rest need to have some provision set aside for dealing with them (and the ones you haven’t yet identified).
The beauty of taking a projectised approach is that it highlights dependencies and forces you to ask the right (and sometimes uncomfortable) questions. Once you have a credible picture of what it will really take you are in a much better position to make the right choices and negotiate options. Some things might just not get done. There may have to be sacrifices.
Doing what matters most also means not doing what matters least.