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StrategyJun 02, 2020

Prioritizing in the Wake of a Pandemic

Emily Crawford, Nickoria Johnson, Clint Griffith, and Sandra Kirkby Baker

COVID-19 has turned the world and business landscape upside down, altering every organization’s strategic priorities and operating methods. Companies are justifiability putting every dollar and resource hour spent under a microscope in an effort to maintain viability during this unprecedented time. But what if instead of simply surviving, companies could find a way to come out of this pandemic on top?

Constraints often breed innovation, and history tells us we will likely see new market leaders emerge on the other side of COVID-19. It will certainly separate those that can adapt from those that cannot. Check out Credera’s Now, Next, Future Framework on what adapting to the new normal could look like for your organization across a number of areas.

While innovation can help move the needle during trying times, program leadership is another area of especially high impact. The identification, prioritization, and execution processes you have in place will directly impact your organization’s ability to survive or thrive in the short and long term.

Let’s look at three ways to adapt your program leadership function during times of business interruption:

  1. Evaluate efficiently.

  2. Start small and measure.

  3. Prepare to pivot.

evaluate efficiently

One of the areas companies are putting under the microscope is their portfolio of internal initiatives. Most organizations entered 2020 with a portfolio that aligned with their established goals for the year, targeting a list of priorities ranging from “keeping the lights on” to large-scale transformation. Once the impacts of COVID-19 infiltrated the world’s population and global economy, many businesses rapidly reduced their list of active internal initiatives to just those that kept their business running in order to reduce non-essential costs and leverage limited capacity. This was shown in a recent survey conducted by PwC which found that 67% of U.S. chief financial officers are still considering deferring or canceling planned investments. Of that population, over half were considering reducing investment in IT and operations initiatives.

While this approach is sensible, as the economy begins to reopen and we shift into the new normal, companies will need greater discipline and agility in how they approach their portfolio of internal initiatives to remain competitive in an evolving business landscape.

Develop a Prioritization Rubric and Process

Establishing an objective set of criteria to evaluate current and future initiatives is necessary to drive quality decision making and alignment across an organization. This can be done by evaluating potential initiatives across six primary dimensions.

Understanding how or if an initiative will impact these six dimensions will inform your financial and resource investment:

  1. Projected revenue generation.

  2. Organizational and/or cost efficiencies gained.

  3. Ability to meet existing or new customer demands.

  4. Improved brand awareness and/or loyalty.

  5. Benefits to your employees.

  6. Ability to meet legal, security, and compliance requirements.

Beyond these six dimensions, consider any factors tailored to your unique business and how COVID-19 has impacted them. For example, retailers will have different focuses than health care or pharmaceutical companies. Additionally, short-term efforts will likely be prioritized over long-term ones, if they offer value that can be realized quicker.

As you evaluate initiatives at a more granular level, leveraging frameworks such as Scaled Agile’s Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) can also ensure you are focusing on the right work at the right time. Whether your business is fully agile or functions in more of a traditional project management mode, the principles of the model apply: tackle the initiatives with highest value and the lowest job size to see impact quickly.

start small and measure

Once the highest value, lowest job size projects are identified, the key to remaining adaptable is to start small and measure quickly.

This can be achieved by:

  • Breaking initiatives into bite-sized pieces.

  • Establishing leading indicators and key metrics.

  • Reporting in real-time.

Break work into micro-releases (minimally viable products or MVPs) to reduce time-to-market and remain flexible when priorities shift. Allocate resources with the necessary skills for the duration of time needed to complete that MVP, and focus on delivering the value associated with it quickly. This method of developing and validating the MVP before investing long term is increasingly important as COVID-19 continues to limit budget and capacity across organizations.

How do you know if your MVP is working? Ensure that the effectiveness of these micro-releases can be measured and reported on to evaluate if they are producing the expected results projected in the prioritization rubric. In addition to the rubric metrics, define and track key performance indicators (KPIs) such as conversion rate, digital or physical traffic, or reduced time to market that provide data-driven insights.

Utilize these indicators to stay up to date on progress and report clear and real-time metrics to inform additional investment decisions.

prepare to pivot

MVP data can be used to make objective decisions to continue pursuing an initiative or to pivot to an alternative focus, a critical ability for leaders during this pandemic. The ability to pivot will be just as critical as the ability to measure results.

When the performance indicators begin to tell a story, leaders are tasked with making the decision to continue, pivot, pause/delay, or stop. These decision points support ongoing re-prioritization. Changing priorities should not be viewed as a sign of a mistake, but as a representation of valuable lessons that are pushing the organization to greater productivity and value for their stakeholders—a key priority at any time, but especially now.

Leverage the leading indicators, metrics, and real-time reporting to make data-driven decisions as part of an ongoing prioritization process. If an MVP did not deliver the expected results, consider pivoting or delaying additional work to re-evaluate your hypothesis. If an MVP successfully delivered expected results, consider the value of additional work. Simply because an initiative is successful, does not mean it necessarily requires further investment. You may choose to pivot, pause, or stop instead of continuing.

Identify a regular and frequent cadence with which leaders from all parts of the company (e.g., IT, operations, sales, marketing, etc.) will review and establish priorities which can then be cascaded throughout their teams. IT groups often find themselves in the middle of these conversations and are frequently the natural party to facilitate discussions and then deliver on selected priorities.

The ability to continuously prioritize and pivot is particularly crucial right now, as it creates the flexibility to address sudden changes in direction, like a renewed emphasis on the digital experience of a retailer or the mobile ordering capabilities of a restaurant. However, this skill will continue to pay dividends in the long term as you utilize it to quickly address the ever-changing demands of the consumer.

To repurpose a term often used in marketing, focus on taking the “next best action” based on the data you have today, and don’t overweight sunk costs or prior investment when determining what you pursue in the future.

looking forward

With an unclear business and economic outlook, Credera sees the principles outlined above to be mainstays of how organizations should operate. Having the right focus is especially important right now, however continuing to leverage a defined process and rubric for prioritization will pay dividends in the post-pandemic world. Do you need help defining and implementing the model outlined here? Credera has deep expertise evaluating, prioritizing, and leading enterprise initiatives to drive business results. Contact us at findoutmore@credera.com for more information.

If you are interested in moving beyond the basics and are ready to explore the nuances of 1) responding to the pandemic now, 2) planning next steps for the coming months, and 3) proactively creating a strategy for the future, check out our thoughts on the subject in Credera’s Now, Next, Future Framework.

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