The First Order of Business: The Secret to Prioritization

As an ecommerce consultant , one of the most frequently asked questions posed to me is how entrepreneurs can sort out their priorities. We all know by now that there is finite amount of time and money and, what often seems like, infinite list of things to get done! How do we reconcile these two realities? It is easy to feel overwhelmed when you have to choose between various things which need your urgent attention.

A business often has a lot of important projects that need to be handled urgently but the truth is it is not really an infinite list. This is especially true as a business starts growing and prioritization becomes a huge challenge. There are multiple departments of the enterprise that are equally important and there are to-do lists for each section. Should your next step be product development or adding features to you website or creating a marketing calendar for you ecommerce store?  Should you focus on on-going marketing or just keep your current projects going? It is not always easy to decide as everything feels important and there are different people demanding different things.

As Maria sang famously in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start.”A good place to start is to catalog all that needs to be done. Putting things down on paper is a good way to define each project. It also serves as a starting point for sorting through the list to define priorities. You can tune out conflicting demands and focus on what each project means to you and your business; you can differentiate between things that you’d like to do and things you need to do.

Then you can use further filters to rank your different projects. Here is a sequence that I highly recommend for sorting priority lists:

What problem will the project solve?

It helps if you can think of which projects to tackle in terms of what problem you’re trying to solve. What will change with current structure and what are the advantages and disadvantages? It is a great way to define the exact benefit you’ll get from each item on your list. For example, if you are thinking of adding social media integration to your website, it can be defined as closing some of your marketing and outreach gaps. If a project does not specifically address a problem, you should re-evaluate the importance of the project and determine its level of impact on your enterprise.

What will be the revenue gain?

This is the most critical question in terms of determining the value of each item on your to-do list. The other way you can frame this question is to determine the loss you’ll incur if you do not do a certain project. This profit-driven analysis can truly help zoom in on the urgency level of each project and I find it a very useful filter for determining how soon I need to get it done.

What are the resources needed to complete the project?

This is the sorting question that will ultimately determine what can be done. Your customers may demand that they want overnight delivery for a product, but if you are not set up that kind of processing, if the resources are not in place for it, this cannot be a high priority item on your list. There are other process to set up before over-night delivery can be on offered as part of your service mix.

In addressing the resources question, think in terms of human resources and budget:

  • Who’ will be needed to research, implement and execute the project?
  • How much money will it take?

Once you have used these filters to create a list of projects that need to be done and can be done, you’ll also know the level of importance of each one to your business. With these critical decision-making factors in place you can create a timeline for each project and set up weekly goals. For example, an ecommerce enterprise may determine in April that a promotional marketing campaign should target Memorial Day. While it may be tempting to scramble to put something in place quickly, the more practical approach will be to set a firm timeline:

  • Decide the optimal launch date
  • Work backward and decide what needs to be done each week/day to make the launch happen

Clarity in prioritizing can help your long-term goals and your short-term time management. As any entrepreneur caught without enough hours in the day knows, it can be a god-send to be able to break your projects down to everyday tasks and targets.

It is worth mentioning here that each business should determine its own list of priorities. You should not make your decisions based on your competitors or on theoretical notions of what should come next. At each stage of business, the things that are important will change. Good project managers factor in current reality when deciding priorities. Remember it is worth taking the time to prioritize, as prioritization plays a big role in the success of any business!


Written by: Shirley Tan


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