The Psychology of Quality and More
There are some jobs where what you do next is very simple, for example in a rigid and linear process. Many jobs, however, are not that easy and a key part of the job is deciding what to do next and after that. Much management work is like this and so is a lot of quality work.
This tool can be particularly helpful when someone is taking over a job and there is just too much to do. By understanding the difference between urgency and importance they can consequently prioritise their work.
There is a lot of work in the quality sphere that is important. Setting up standards, holding reviews, creating consistent documentation doing rigorous analyses, and so on. Managers also have important work in developing strategy, doing performance reviews of their people, and so on.
The problem with a lot of jobs is that even if you have your important work prioritised and planned, urgent work tends to pop up unannounced and demand action. Your boss asks you to ‘just check over’ a presentation they will be doing. A key customer goes critical. An employee resigns. And a hundred other things that need to be done now.
Sorting it out
What needs to be done is to combine the importance and urgency into a single item that allows you to prioritise actions. There are two ways of doing this: numerically and visually.
A simple way to combine importance and urgency is to create a numeric system that can be shown in a simple table, for example as below.
Note that this assumes urgency and importance are equal in some way, and something that is high importance and low urgency has equal priority to something that has high urgency and low importance. In practice, urgency often wins, and this can be taken into account by weighting the urgency score, for example calculating priority as (importance x (urgency + 5)).
A simple way of visualising importance vs. urgency is to draw a two-dimensional chart on a flipchart or whiteboard and stick Post-It Notes up with one action to be done on each note.
This gives a useful display where Post-It Notes can be moved around within the discussion. They can then be moved to another flip-chart page for vertical sorting in priority order. If you want to keep a note of the Importance-Priority chart, then take a photograph – many phones these days have high enough resolution to capture all the needed detail.
Working in quality, it is a common problem that you are promoting things which are important whilst operational managers are more driven by the urgent tasks. This chart can be used when this conflict arises. Get together with them and plot the tasks. The result can be agreement on action for what was previously a point of conflict.
Next time: The Investment–Risk Curve
This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Chartered Quality Institute
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