Prioritize and Say No Properly – A First-Hand Report

In one of our last articles, we went into more detail about the success story of our service team. Today, we’d like to give you some insights into some of the team’s learnings: With growing task areas, the team had to learn what it means to prioritize and say no.

In addition to the daily work, the team had all kinds of other tasks to take care of. Plus, there were requests from employees and customers – tasks and requests that could not be scheduled in this way. The sheer volume of these unplannable things soon meant that the team could not keep up with the daily work.

The issue soon came up in a retrospective. The team talked it over and made the decision to turn down any other requests in the future unless there was time to do so. No sooner said than done. The next request, which went beyond the daily work, was successfully blocked.

The problem was that the urgency of such requests was misjudged. In addition, there was a lack of a solution-oriented attitude when communicating the cancellation. Through feedback brought to the team, it turned out to be good practice to query the following:

  • Where exactly is support needed?
  • How urgent is the request? / By when is support needed?

With this information, the team was able to better gauge tasks and requests.

Define and Prioritize Service Classes

Define and Prioritize Service Classes

Since all tasks can’t always be tackled and some things have to be postponed for the time being, the following question came up: Which tasks are the most important and what can be put off? To answer this question, the team enlisted the support of the Product Owner, who provided assistance with his experience and knowledge of the company.

In order to define the most important tasks, it was first necessary to determine who the intended customer group was and what was to be offered to them. Thus, the Service Team Vision was created. It is structured similarly to a value proposition.

For [user] the [requirement, benefit, opportunity] is [company/product/service] the [category] the [core benefit].

In contrast to [competition, alternative] is [differentiator].

Once this step was done, the team could use it to define their classes of service and SLA’s. (SLA= Service Level Agreement, i.e. a contractually guaranteed service, e.g. a product is shipped within 24 h).

The service classes were additionally ordered and made transparent for everyone, so that the whole team could remember and orientate themselves. Thus, a foundation was established allowing us to decide which tasks needed to be completed first.

Creating Transparency and Thinking Across Teams

Once the team had established the classes of service, it was possible to assess what needed to be done first. However, there was still a lack of clarity about what would happen if the team identified capacity constraints. Now the team had to learn to ask for help. Many people find that difficult, even if employees openly indicate that they are willing to help. Learning to ask for support and thus to think beyond team boundaries is a process. For this very purpose, wibas has a company-wide daily (similar to the Scrum of Scrums), where representatives from different teams are present.

Currently, there is a good example where the team has reached its limits: The team was not able to provide technical support for six parallel training courses at the same time. The team noticed this bottleneck early on and made it transparent. This allowed two available coaches to step in and help out.

Indicator: Traffic Light System

Since the service team is made up of students, some of the work here is staggered. So the challenge was to create a common understanding of the team’s overall workload. The traffic light system was introduced for this purpose. It makes transparent whether cross-team help is needed or whether there is enough capacity left to help out other teams and accept impromptu requests.

The status of the traffic light is set by the service team in the team’s Daily after discussing which tasks are pending for the day and who will work on what. With this foundation, each team member knows how to respond when employees approach the team with requests. The person representing the team also knows whether or not help should be requested in the cross-team Daily.

Red: Not all classes of service can be met.

Yellow: The Classes of Service are just about to be covered. Extra tasks are discussed with all team members present before they are accepted.

Green: The Classes of Service are covered and the team can accept additional requests without consultation.

But Why Actually Prioritize?

There are several reasons: One fairly apparent reason is that there will always be more tasks than time. This means that not all of the work can be done all of the time. By prioritizing, you can ensure that the available time is filled with the “right” things. That is, with what is both important and urgent.

Prioritizing plays an important role within self-organization and time management. Steve Jobs once said “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” He is as proud of what he does as well as what he doesn’t do. By leaving things undone, you create time and focus to finish others.

When you don’t prioritize, everything seems urgent and consequently everything loses urgency. Thus, focus is lost and it is harder to justify why you are picking a particular task. If you prioritize, you also create focus.

There are several reasons: One fairly apparent reason is that there will always be more tasks than time. This means that not all of the work can be done all of the time. By prioritizing, you can ensure that the available time is filled with the “right” things. That is, with what is both important and urgent.

Prioritizing plays an important role within self-organization and time management. Steve Jobs once said “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” He is as proud of what he does as well as what he doesn’t do. By leaving things undone, you create time and focus to finish others.

When you don’t prioritize, everything seems urgent and consequently everything loses urgency. Thus, focus is lost and it is harder to justify why you are picking a particular task. If you prioritize, you also create focus.

There are several reasons: One fairly apparent reason is that there will always be more tasks than time. This means that not all of the work can be done all of the time. By prioritizing, you can ensure that the available time is filled with the “right” things. That is, with what is both important and urgent.

Prioritizing plays an important role within self-organization and time management. Steve Jobs once said “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” He is as proud of what he does as well as what he doesn’t do. By leaving things undone, you create time and focus to finish others.

When you don’t prioritize, everything seems urgent and consequently everything loses urgency. Thus, focus is lost and it is harder to justify why you are picking a particular task. If you prioritize, you also create focus.

Starting with the highest priority, you always have the assurance that you are working on the right task. It means that everything else can be left undone without feeling guilty. It is a conscious decision to fill your time with what is most important.

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