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How to Prioritize Challenges When Everything is #1

How to Prioritize Challenges When Everything is #1

Heidi Haaven  |  August 30, 2018

When it comes to business challenges, especially large and complex ones, you need clearly defined priorities and a timeline that you can actually stick to. Easier said than done, right? There are bound to be a lot of opinions from different areas of your company, not to mention plenty of unexpected dependencies and surprises along the way.

Over the last couple years, we’ve changed the way we prioritize challenges at Sundog. The best part: it’s helped us move the needle faster and more efficiently. The book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman introduces the concept of Rocks, which are business challenges that must get solved within 90 days.

As a rule of thumb, identify 3-7 challenges per quarter to solve in 90 days.


By prioritizing our Rocks this way every quarter, we’ve transformed the way we solve some of our biggest challenges.

The 5 Places to Start

Here are five steps to help you get started:

1. Acknowledge that prioritization is needed.

Not everything that comes your way is equally valuable. There’s a tendency in many organizations to be reactive when it comes to business challenges without first assessing the overall contribution toward the company’s strategic goals.

What are the two or three initiatives that will really drive growth? Focus on key drivers of your business, and remember - anything that doesn’t move those drivers shouldn’t be a high priority.

2. Consider the big picture.

The big picture should ultimately come back to making your company profitable in the long-term. On a Rock level, the big picture might be adopting a new sales methodology or rolling out a new workforce planning tool. While there are several smaller success criteria that go into making the Rock actionable, keep your eye on the ultimate goal.

Simply put, any Rock that doesn’t make your company more profitable shouldn’t be a priority.

3. Adapt to new information.

Setting priorities and deciding on Rocks should be somewhat firm. If you constantly change priorities, your work will become chaotic and inefficient, and your team will suffer - in terms of both productivity and morale.

However, sometimes new information will arise that forces your hand. If you’re working on a Rock to improve overall operations, a client or customer emergency can - and should - take priority. On the flip side, your highest priority might start as solving a complex emergency-level dilemma. And as you’re working on that, you uncover an opportunity to improve a long-term process. Now you’ve identified a potential Rock you can work on within the next 90 days.

4. Paralysis through analysis.

The tendency to overthink and overanalyze before taking action is a major barrier for many organizations. Will more analysis really give you a better answer?

If you're serious about prioritization and driving results for your organization, be prepared to move on 70%.

It may feel counterintuitive, but you have to be willing to make the best decision possible, given what you know at the time. You’ll get more done with higher chances for strong results.

5. Less is more.

If you are able to break your business challenges down into smaller, yet still valuable pieces, you’ll likely find that prioritizing gets easier. Solving those challenges does, too.

So split your Rocks and prioritize those pieces instead of tackling one big lump of work. After all, if you’re one step closer to solving a complex business challenge at the end of 90 days, that’s a step in the right direction.

What’s next? Don’t stop.

Once you’ve prioritized your business challenges, don’t stop. Prioritization is an ongoing conversation, not an occasional one.

Things change, so be prepared for regular check-ins to keep everyone focused on what’s most important in terms of your organization’s strategic objectives. And as you learn from work along the way, keep seizing opportunities to improve.

Any questions? Let us know. We’ll be happy to help.

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Posted in: Business, Consulting, Leadership, Project Management, Strategy

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