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Prioritization is a balancing act. Those who can do it effectively are some of the most productive people I know.

Reflecting on Q3, I found myself thinking about the expression, choose any two: time, quality, scope — and how it related to prioritization.

When costs are fixed, the remaining variables that can be manipulated are time, quality and scope.

This is a variation on the Iron Triangle, sometimes called the Project Management Triangle, where the three variables are time, scope and cost, with quality in the unchanging middle.

No matter what triangle you adhere to, choose any two reminds us that you can’t do it all. You have to pick something to sacrifice.

For instance, one thing I’ve noticed about my own work is that I find it very difficult to lower my quality standards. Good quality becomes a given choice.

What then tends to happen is I undertake a project — say, write an eBook. Within the guidelines of the product is a well defined scope. The book needs to be beyond a certain number of pages and well-researched. It’s got to be worth providing your contact information to be able to download.

So the two I choose are quality and scope. Time has to be flexible. That means writing the book is going to take as long as it takes. It’s not surprising then, when a project takes longer than I had hoped and deadlines get pushed back.

Our engineering team has different approach. Quality is also a given for them — our platform will be a high-quality tool. But interestingly they choose time as they second fixed variable: time.

Flite’s engineers timebox development into a weekly cycle called a sprint. Within each sprint, each engineer plans for what is feasible to be accomplished in a single week. Sometimes it’s just one tiny feature. Often it’s less than a full feature: a prototype, a working mock, a bug fix or enhancement to a previous weeks work.

The sum of all these sprints ultimately add up to something much greater.

There are some major benefits to working in weekly iterations with scope as a variable. If something isn’t working well, it becomes apparent very quickly. We focus on creating things that work or can be demoed each week. That means that even if they lack polish, our prototypes can be used and explored internally from a very early stage. This provides a lot of insight. We can figure out what works well and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly.

In advertising, time is actually not usually up for negotiation either. Once planning is done, you commit to running campaigns for specific dates. The creative needs to be done before that. The traffic plan must be in place.

We miss deadlines when we’re unrealistic about the quality or scope of a campaign — or when we mistakenly delude ourselves that we can choose all three.

As you look at your own efforts last quarter, which two did you choose most often?