Prioritize Like a President
On any given day there are more things to do. From day to day ideas, opportunities, requests and other demands on your time pile up. Whether as an individual, team or an entire organization there’s no possible way to do everything. That’s where backlogs (lists) come in. A backlog is a container for all of your ideas that could provide value to yourself and to others, as well as the things you simply need to get done. As your backlog grows determining what to start next becomes increasingly tricky. Enter prioritization. There are many different ways to prioritize, but the 34th President of the United States (or maybe his former college president) came up with one of the simplest and most powerful. The Eisenhower Method uses the twin razors of importance and urgency.
“What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
This method is visualized with the Eisenhower Matrix where backlog items are tagged in one of four quadrants, keeping in mind that what is important is rarely urgent.
Items in your backlog are tackled in the following order:
1) Important & Urgent
2) Important & Not Urgent
3) Not Important & Urgent
4) Not Important & Not Urgent
This method of prioritization cuts through the distractions and time wasters and focuses on the things that are the most important and will result in the most valuable outcomes. The end goal is to work towards building a backlog of items that fall into quadrant two, Important and Not Urgent. This moves individuals, teams, and organizations from being panicked and reactive to being thoughtful and proactive.
In the context of software product development, a team that has accumulated overwhelming technical debt will end up with a backlog full of quadrant one critical bugs and defects, requiring immediate attention. In contrast, a team with built-in quality practices will have a quadrant two, value-filled backlog with features and capabilities that will further benefit their customers.
The ideal way to implement the Eisenhower Method in Favro is with a combination of a backlog (list), tags, a board, and board lanes.
Create a backlog and begin filling it with cards, representing things you want to finish, create or accomplish. Click on each card to open the card pop up. Next to Tags click “Add tags” and create a tag for each of the four Eisenhower Matrix quadrants.
After tagging all of the cards in your backlog with the appropriate quadrant tag, drag and drop each card in a stack rank order with Important/Urgent cards on top and Not Important/Not Urgent cards on the bottom.
Create a board with columns that represent your workflow stages moving from start to finish.
Now add Lanes to your board for each of the quadrants, maybe leaving out Not Important/Not Urgent, but that’s up to you. This is done by accessing the board menu (…) and selecting Layout -> Add lane.
You’re ready to start using the Eisenhower Method! The Important/Urgent cards at the top of your backlog should be tackled first, by dragging them to the first lane of your board. Important/Not Urgent items are committed to the second lane and so forth.
Whether for an individual, team or entire organization the concept is the same: cards in the first lane are the highest priority and done first. Often teams will swarm any card entering this lane ensuring that it’s done as soon as possible. As you continue to become more proactive and less reactive, the vast majority of cards will fall into the second, Important/Not Urgent lane. Once this is achieved, you’ll be completing the things that are truly valuable and providing the most positive impact.