Most everyone agrees that training is important, but hardly ever urgent. Fixing a production outage is, on the other hand, both important and urgent. Responding to a corporate survey on IT services? Probably neither.

These are simple examples because they align easily with standard business practices. The complexities arise when choices are required. That’s when you need to understand the guiding principles of your group and your project and apply them to create well-justified priorities.

The Example

A few years back, I was stepped in to manage a project that involved migrating to a new statement vendor for a financial institution. The mandate was to have as little impact as possible to customers, while maintaining extremely high standards of privacy and timeliness of delivery. The project had already slipped one quarter at great expense (yes, BEFORE I was the running it), so keeping to the schedule was also important for success.

Taking all this into account, the guiding principles were: a like-for-like migration from an end-user perspective; a high degree of accuracy and coverage in our QA processes; minimal exposure to liability from compliance violations; and on-time delivery.

A few weeks into the project, the new vendor announced they would be late with their first delivery into the QA environment.

Using the technique of Urgent, Important, Both, Neither, I immediately knew that this schedule issue was both urgent and Important, because I understood how it aligned to the guiding principles of the project.

Armed with this assessment and the well-justified prioritization of keeping the QA delivery on schedule, compelling the vendor to double their efforts and deliver on time was a fairly simple matter.

The Analysis

A good technical leader also will effectively manage complex issues, risks and tasks by aligning them to guiding principles, assessing their priority, and creating well-justified plans.

That’s why rule #10 doesn’t simply say write tasks on a white board with numbers beside them. That’s just making an ordered list. A leader understands what that list is based on. Just creating a list isn’t very useful; understanding and applying the principles that govern that list is.

Now go check out Rules #3 and #4.