Urgent, Surival-Sensitive, and Mattered

Today when I work around my focus areas dashboard and struggle with the Urgent-Important Matrix, I invented a twist into how to prioritize tasks better.  Works really well with me.

To illustrate my points, let assume we have this imaginary company and a simplified sample list of focus areas that looks like this:

In this sample list of focus areas, to priritize the areas, we use Urgent-Important Matrix with this legends: [First] for Urgent/Important, [Second] for Non-Urgent/Important, [Third] for Urgent/Non-Important, [Fourth] for Non-Urgent/Non-Important.  Upon seeing the Priority column, I don’t think this approach works well in this situation because:

  1. It creates too many [Second] – in which a lot of them are very different in nature and in the ways we want to prioritize.
  2. It doesn’t create any [Third] and [Fourth] – of course because at this high-level view where we want to manage and abstractically pay attention to some groups with large volume of works, it doesn’t make sense to have any “Non-Important” in this table.
  3. The table includes different people take lead in different areas, followed by their vice, and sponsor.  Given the number of [Second] it creates confusion for the PIC (Person In Charge) and the vice to prioritize, and the sponsor to manage PIC’s work.

Instead of using this approach, I invented an upgrade version of prioritization based on three dimensions: (1) Time-Sensitive, (2) Survival-Sensitive, and (3) Mattered Sensitive.  In which (1) Time-Sensitive we keep Urgent/Non-Urgent.  Then I use a self-introduced factor as the second dimension, this can be anything matters to the organization, for example: Cashflow-Sensitive factor, or Strategy-Sensitive factor.  In this case, I use Survival-Sensitive, because I think Survival factor incluces the crux of what are most important in an organization, a blend between management, strategy, and finance.  A young company battle will be the survival battle.  A large company will need to defend and be paranoid about survival.  I think survival makes sense here to keep an eye on what’s really make or break the company.  Thirdly, the Important/Non-Important is replaced by Mattered/Non-Mattered.  This third dimension is more of a management reminder rather than serving as a separator between areas of focus.  Of course at this high-level view, where a line includes in itself a large group of works, nothing should stay here that is Non-Mattered.  Even though some groups of works (let say group 1) are significantly more mattered than other groups of works (group 2), but those less-mattered areas (group 2) also need to be taken care by someone.  To separate between the significance and the resources that are allocated between two different groups (1 and 2) we can simplified it by Important/Non-Important.  However, using that approach will demoralize the team who takes care of the group 2 works and hurt the culture of excellence (who want to do best for the works that are “Non-Important” to the company anyway?).  Thus I changed it to Mattered/Non-Mattered and carefully review all the focus areas to eliminate all groups that not really mattered out of the board.  So only the Mattered areas remained.  The Priority is changed to as follow:

We eliminates the Non-Mattered from top to bottom because:

  1. End-Node 2: Something that is Urgent and Survival Sensitive cannot be Non-Mattered.
  2. End-Node 4: Something that is Urgent and Non-Survival Sensitive and Non-Mattered may:
    1. Actually not worth doing anyway.
    2. Should be re-categorized.  If it is Urgent and requires immediate resource and response, it might be Mattered.
    3. Might apply for single task, but I don’t see a group of tasks that are Urgent, Non-Survival, and Non-Mattered altogether (we are working on a table of focus areas).
  3. End-Node 6: Similar to End-Node 2, something Survival Sensitive cannot be Non-Mattered.
  4. End-Node 8: Something that is Non-Urgent, Non-Survival, and Non-Mattered might not worth doing.

Thus, the Priority legend is now changed to:

  1. Priority [First]: Urgent, Survival-Sensitive, Mattered
  2. Priority [Second]: Non-Urgent, Survival-Sensitive, Mattered
  3. Priority [Third]: Urgent, Non-Survival-Sensitive, Mattered
  4. Priority [Fourth] : Non-Urgent, Survival-Sensitive, Mattered

We keep this “Mattered” even though it appears in all 4 Priority level because we want to remind both ourselves and the subodinates that the reason we do the tasks is because it’s mattered.  Regardless of how or how much mattered it is.  It matters therefore we care to design, delegate, and follow up.

Upon applying this to the illustrated table above, the groups of works become:

Now, we see it won’t change the [First], because anything that is classified at Urgent/Important from the beginning will be Urgent/Survival-Sensitive/Mattered anyway.  But we see a lot of shifts from [Second] to [Fourth], one from [Second] to [Third], creating a deeper layer of priority that aids the teams better to prioritize and allocate resources.

To go more details for example, we see that Expansion Strategy and Market Ingelligence Activities Design previously are both [Old Second] as Non-Urgent/Important.  But now Expansion Strategy become [New Fourth] and Market Intelligence Activities Design stay at [New Second].  That’s because the different in the Survival dimension: A company without expansion can still survive, but a company without a good design and flow of information internally and externally might make wrong business decisions and cease to exist.  Thus in the group work of “Strategy”, designing a good Market Intelligence activities is placed at higher priority comparing to thinking about expansion.

We also see a lot of shifts in compliance works (HR, Legal, etc) from [Old Second: Non-Urgent/Important] to [New Fourth: Non-Urgent/Non-Survival-Sensitive/Mattered].  Compliance with the government, local and federal, is important.  But if the company doesn’t survive it doesn’t mean anything.  Doing compliance well in the cost of distration from core operating activities is also an undesirable way to prioritize workload.  Therefore with this new apporach, we see a lot of compliance, bookkeeping, and reportings activities, which are all non-urgent and important, shift to its right place of priority because it is less directly impactful to the matter of survival in the company.

In here we have Feedback Management moves from [Old Second: Non-Urgent/Important] to [New Third: Urgent/Non-Survival-Sensitive/Mattered].  The reason is upon we have a complain from customer/client, even though one complain do not blow up the Earth, but we should, and we take this matter seriously, approach immediately and handle it as “crisis management”: why the customer is not happy? what can we do better next time? how should we handle the situation?  One complain does not threat the company survival (Non-Survival-Sensitive), but customer safistaction matters.  And it is Urgent because without proper management, it immediately sends a message to all other customers that they, in general, are not taken care of.  In extreme case, it can spiral into a PR crisis.  Thus it’s important to leave no unhappy customer behind and approach the complain quickly with priority.

Given this is only an illustrated list, it might not show appropriate depth of priority that with all [First], [Second], [Third], and [Fourth] in a good proportion.  But I hope this idea makes sense and may it aid you in your works.

Tri Ton

Businessperson with private equity expertise. Interested in strategy and investment.

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