Setting Clear Priorities

To be a tech leader, rather than just a manager, you have to set clear priorities. There are two ways to do this and they apply in different situations.

#1 Prioritize and Execute

The first way is to pick one task and finish it. That’s it.

The book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win, shows how effective this way is in emergency situations or in a situation where there is a lot of confusion. US Navy Seals face life or death situations and they have to be able to quickly set clear priorities in emergency situations. They pick the most important tasks, assign them to their team and get the job done. Then they figure out what the next important tasks are and accomplish them.

Even the most competent of leaders can be overwhelmed if they try to tackle multiple problems or a number of tasks simultaneously. The team will likely fail at each of those tasks. Instead, leaders must determine the highest priority task and execute. When overwhelmed, fall back upon this principle: Prioritize and Execute.

In the tech industry, we sometimes face emergencies during big releases or launch days or big sale days. In those situations it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so take a step back and pick the priority, be decisive and get your team to execute on that priority.

#2 MoSCoW: Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have

The second way is to use a project management tool: MoSCoW.

MoSCoW: Must have, should have, could have, won't have prioritization technique

On the ProjectManagement.com wiki, they describe the MoSCoW analysis as:

MoSCoW is a prioritization technique used to reach a common understanding with stakeholders on the relative importance they place on the delivery of each requirement.

It works like this. You take all the tasks that need to get done and categorize them into one of these four categories:

  1. must have: absolutely required items
  2. should have: important items but will not be delivered within the scheduled timeline
  3. could have: also known as nice to have but not required tasks
  4. won’t have: things that just will not be done

In everyday and non-emergency situations we have to pick multiple priorities that will be accomplished over the medium- to long-term. Give the team a clear goal to work towards by separating tasks into the four categories. Complete everything in the Must Have category and then schedule and complete the Should Have items.

This clarity is vital for your team but it’s especially vital for you as a leader because the MoSCoW prioritization technique lets you approach stakeholders and cut the scope of a project to a manageable and realistic size.

Set clear priorities with the MoSCoW analysis for projects that take longer than a day. In an emergency, prioritize and execute.

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