PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
Many years ago (1973), in a Data Processing group in a local government organization (Lane County, Oregon) we had several large projects, and a large backlog of small maintenance, support, and “quick fix” projects. And, for this backlog of projects, the priorities continually changed. The changes were so frequent that we could plan our week’s work on Monday, but by Friday, little of that work was complete, because of many new, “even more urgent” projects, and because of priority changes in our backlog.
We addressed this challenge by prototyping a solution: Keeping track of our “backlog” in (of all things) a box of punched cards. That was the primary input to many computer systems in earlier days. After we perfected the information we needed to track, we began to use an online version. In that era, online often meant a simple listing of card images on an 80-character screen. Unfortunately, our solution did little more than depress us—the backlog kept growing.
And then, several new books on Time Management emerged. We especially liked Alan Lakein’s How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. We decided that his insights, including better methods of prioritization, were the key. We added Urgency and Importance fields to our backlog list, with entries limited to 1, 2 and 3, where 1 was most important or most urgent. Note that Alan Lakein used A, B and C for the three choices, we used 1, 2 and 3, because they could be more easily averaged. And, we required that all entries must average 2, to force a sense of high, medium and low Urgency and Importance. Otherwise, everything would soon become Priority 1, destroying the value of the system.
These actions had turned our depressing backlog list into a manageable portfolio of small projects. We managed three types of project status, to reflect our emerging understanding of what it would take to truly manage our portfolio: