If you work at an organization with 10 or more employees, you are probably a member of one work team or another. And it’s safe to say that most work teams sincerely want to be productive. But when faced with lots of stuff to get done, teams can get bogged down trying to distinguish “stuff to do now” from “stuff to do later” from “stuff not to bother with.” Then the “stuff” piles up, blocking a team’s path to productivity. Sheer willpower, unfortunately, does not make a good shovel for clearing the path. Lacking a better tool, a team can unwittingly dig itself into a hole, despite the diggers’ best intentions. Without a simple, effective method of prioritization, teams tend to revert to one of three problematic conditions:

  1. Priority is dictated by the highest-ranking team member. I often hear complaints that an organization’s “culture of consensus” is the reason why teams get bogged down in planning mode. When such a “consensus quagmire” is perceived, the natural reaction of an action-oriented manager might be to step-up, squelch team input and prioritize via directive.
  2. Priority is set by the most persuasive team member or members. Our more dauntless colleagues may advocate for prioritization of “their” initiatives to such an extent that they preclude input and contrary opinions of other team members.
  3. No prioritization occurs. Teams try to do too much all at once, or devote time and resources to the “wrong” initiatives – those providing little or no benefit to the organization while incurring significant costs.

So how do we prevent these problems from occurring? I have seen the GRPI (goals, roles, processes, interpersonal) discipline utilized effectively to improve team dynamics and effectiveness. At my organization we also dabble in Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to help us understand our own personality tendencies and to recognize the tendencies of others, which can be a big help in strengthening the interpersonal aspect of our GRPI efforts. But even a team comprised of our most well-intentioned, collaborative, GRPI- and MBTI-embracing folks can still get bogged down with prioritization problems. That’s where the Business Science Method of Assessing Priority (BS MAP) comes in.

I didn’t invent the BS MAP, but I have used the tool for nearly 20 years. (I only recently came up with the catchy acronym!) There are many variations of the same basic approach. Here is how to use this version:

    1. The team makes a list of potential projects or initiatives. The more potential initiatives, the more helpful the BS MAP exercise can be.
    2. Designate a facilitator. The facilitator draws a big graph on a whiteboard (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Basic BS MAP
Figure 1: Basic BS MAP
  1. Facilitator leads a time-bound discussion for each potential initiative. All are encouraged to weigh-in on an initiative’s potential benefit to the organization as well as the initiative’s potential cost and/or complexity.
  2. Rank the initiative. Near the end of the allotted time (around 10 minutes), the facilitator then prompts the group to rank the initiative on a 1 to 10 scale for potential benefit (x-axis value) and for potential cost or complexity (y-axis value). When opinions radically differ, facilitator may play an “honest broker” role by suggesting a compromise score that the group can live with.
  3. The facilitator plots the X,Y point on the BS MAP. Let’s say a team scores initiative A high for potential benefit (9 out of a possible 10) and low for potential cost/complexity (2 out of 10). Initiative A (9,2) as shown in Figure 2 is  in the high benefit, low cost/complexity “sweet spot” of top priority. The sweet-spot quadrant is shaded green, telling us “we should consider doing these first.” The yellow quadrants, indicating high benefit with high cost/complexity and low benefit with low cost/complexity tell us “maybe we should consider these, but not right now.” The red quadrant, indicating low benefit with high cost/complexity tells us “we should not consider these.”

    Figure 2: Mapped Point on BS MAP
    Figure 2: Mapped Point on BS MAP
  4. All potential initiatives are scored in like manner. The resulting BS MAP, with all points plotted based on everyone’s input, makes prioritization much more objectively obvious and far less frustratingly contentious.

When the BS MAP exercise is properly facilitated, teams are happy to hang up their shovels and get busy piling up good results.

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