Aligning Individual and Business Priorities: We Need a Better Way to Measure
Clayton Christensen, in his book “How Will You Measure Your Life?” states that the factors that make up the capabilities of a business fall into three categories: Resources, Processes and Priorities. Analyzing a business using these categories is useful because they are “mutually exclusive,” meaning that any part of a business will fall into one and only one category, and they are “exhaustive,” meaning that these categories make up all there is to a business. Managers can use this framework to analyze the capabilities of their departments and teams, providing them insight into how they can improve.
Resources – These are the most tangible parts of the business. Examples include: people, equipment, products, cash, land, etc. These are the most visible and typically easily measurable, so they tend to get the most attention within the business.
Processes – These are ways businesses leverage resources in order to be successful. Examples include: manufacturing methods, market research, employee development, resource allocation, etc. Without solid processes, resources are wasted.
Priorities – According to Christensen, priorities are the most significant. Priorities represent how decisions are made—which resources to allocate to which projects. Christensen makes an important point here that prioritization decisions are not only made by senior management; they are made at every level of the organization. The key to execution is to ensure that the priorities made at every level align with the overall business strategy.
What does this mean for business process improvement? Seeing that business capabilities are defined by their resources, processes and priorities, the core of business process improvement is to continuously improve the capabilities of an organization by using these categories as levers. However, in many projects that I have seen, processes and resource allocation have been the primary focus of improvement, with priority alignment not being an explicit area of focus.
If you asked senior managers about the strategic direction of the company, you would likely get very clear and specific answers. But what if you asked individual contributors how their day-to-day tasks map to the strategic direction of the company—do you think you would get the same level of clarity? Perhaps you would in a small company, but as companies grow so do layers of management and more chances for the prioritization process to become skewed, resulting in suboptimal business execution.
The solution to ensuring prioritization alignment lies in measurement. When processes are measured, they can be more effectively managed. The same goes for priorities. Priorities at the lowest level are Tasks performed by individuals and the order in which they are performed. Measuring tasks is not a new practice—it is commonplace for any organization that works in a project-oriented manner.
However, many of the project management practices in place today do not do a good job working with my anecdotal assertion of the true nature of tasks: they are dynamic (the scope of work as well as its priorities), they are driven by the individual (as opposed to the manager) and the majority of tasks go unrecorded. In my experience, the second two phenomena are driven from the first. In most projects, the Work Breakdown Structure represents all the tasks that need to be done in order to complete part of the project. However there will be unexpected events and unplanned tasks. Typically, these will be found by team members, not managers. In many cases, it would be more work to update the project plan than to just do the work, so those unplanned tasks are completed while going unrecorded. Identifying and controlling those unplanned, unrecorded tasks is critical as they take up bandwidth and they may not be in alignment with broader strategic priorities.
Aligning individual priorities (Tasks) with strategic business priorities in a dynamic way will require a new way of thinking about how projects are managed. Project managers and knowledge workers need to be given better tools to embrace the unexpected, and measure those tasks that would otherwise go unmeasured. Once an organization has visibility of these unexpected tasks, it will be better equipped to adapt and ensure that tactical prioritization aligns with the strategic.
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