Process vs. Priority: A Balancing Act

Oct 6, 2010, Written by Sue Miley

If you are a small business owner I know you have experienced this balancing act.  Most of us are producers in our business.  We need to make sure all of the steps and pieces of the process get done!

But, who is looking at the prioritization?  We don’t want to just go through the motions.  Who is deciding when we need more resources or emphasis on a certain stage of our process?

Oh, that is you too.  Since we are also the owner, it is up to us to make sure we are focusing on the most important things.  Like I said, “its a balancing act”.

Why is Process Important?

A process is just documenting the steps you take in your business.  It could be a sales process; a production process; or a process for a specific task.  By documenting it we can ensure consistency in execution.  We also have a document that employees can use to do their job.

But, as you know, if we just have a process without any qualification, prioritization or analysis, we can easily begin to just go through the motions.

It might sound like this:

“I did send out 3000 mailers last month.”

“Why didn’t we get the calls we normally get?”

“I don’t know.  I sent them.”

“When did you send them?”

“Around September 24, but it was during the month.”

“The offer ended September 30.  The offer was supposed to be good for a month.  You only gave them a week.”

“Hey, my job says to send out direct mail pieces each month and I did that.  It was still September.”

This is going through the motions.

How does Priority Help?

Priority requires looking at the process and putting emphasis, deadlines, and resources within the process at the points that will help to achieve the overall performance objectives.  Somebody has to step back and determine if the process is working and what needs to be tweaked.

You may be able to hire someone to do this, but in the end, the business owner still needs to look at the big picture.  This is the “working ON the business” part.

Reporting Provides Answers for Process and Priority

Some people may hate reports and paperwork, but good reports make sure that both the process and the priority are effective.  Reports need to be established that measure the key indicators of a business.  In the direct mail example, your report would have #pieces mailed and response rate.  If the column with # pieces mailed is zero then we know the process didn’t even happen.

If it just has a lower # than anticipated, or the response rate is significantly off projections or history, then it helps us to set Priority.  We didn’t mail enough to begin with.  We may need to change the offer.  We may have messed up the timing.

Good reports let us know that the steps happened and if they were done effectively.  They are a key tool in setting priorities.

How to Create Your Own Balance of Process and Priority

We may not achieve perfection, however, you can balance both process and priority.

  1. Document your best case process.  I like flowcharts because I am visual.
  2. Determine the critical path steps – these can’t be skipped and the process be completed.
  3. Create simple reports that measure these critical path steps.
  4. Review reports and PRIORITIZE emphasis, changes, or resource management behind the critical path step that needs attention.

Switching from Production Hat to Management Hat

I know it is easier said than done.  It is hard “to see the forest through the trees” since we spend most of our time in the Production Hat.  As the business owner, we have to be able to make the switch.  I recommend that you block out a certain amount of time each day to “work ON the business”.  Plan to review reports or walk around work stations and assess the quality of the “process” and make decisions to “prioritize” certain steps in the process.

In our direct mail example, if we are not getting the phone calls we expected, the quality review would include looking at:

*did they get sent? (PROCESS)

*did they get sent on time? (PROCESS)

*was the offer effectively communicated? (QUALITY)

*is the offer attractive to our customer? (QUALITY)

If your reporting is in place you, with the management hat on, may test a new offer or a new communication piece.

If we don’t look at these factors, we may continue with the same process and tactics regardless of their effectiveness.

Appropriate Balance = Maximum Effectiveness

Experience has proven that the appropriate balance produces maximum results.  The caution is to understand the difference between balance and a swinging pendulum.  You need to spend time on process and priority every week.  You won’t maximize effectiveness if you stay totally engrossed in the “going through the motions” process for a few months and then wake up one morning, put your management hat on and then hyper focus on prioritizing for a period of time. They have to go hand in hand.

What have your experiences been in balancing process and priority?

Reader Interactions


  1. Marcus Goodyear says

    This is good for me to hear. Lately, I’ve been doing more management and less production. The management hat is new to me, but it’s something I need to learn to wear with style.

    I’d love to see an example of your four steps in action…

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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