Project Managers – How to Increase Conflicting Priorities

Do you find you’ve too many conflicting priorities? One of the dilemmas for small business owners is that the more work you get, the more likely you are to prioritize more tasks. This leads to a schedule conflicts whereby you cannot complete deliverables on schedule, releases get pushed out, and staff become demoralized.

Project Plan - Gantt Chart

How to Reduce Conflicting Priorities

‘The secret is companies that do a few things with focus, are better able to satisfy their customers than companies that do many things with mediocrity’ says Andrew McFarland

To put more perspective on this, a survey of 1,800 global executives (Booz & Company’s Coherence Profiler) highlighted that:

  • 54% of report they have too many conflicting priorities
  • 56% say allocating resources in a way that really supports the strategy is a significant challenge
  • 81% admit that their growth initiatives lead to waste
  • 47% say their company’s way of creating value is not well understood by employees or customers.

HBR suggest that ‘these symptoms stem from companies’ incoherence — their strong tendency to chase growth initiative after unrelated growth initiative, often with very little success.’

How to Reduce Conflicting Priorities

If you feel you have too many priorities, many of which are competing for attention, then consider the following:

  • Prepare a matrix and identify the high level priorities
  • Examine where they conflict and see if they can be merged and/or split depending on their urgency
  • Identify WHO assigned priority status to each item
  • Confirm that the item, e.g. Product release, is still high priority

This helps you see all outstanding priorities, where there is ownership, and the expected delivery dates.

Sam Barnes makes the point that ‘you must understand the priorities of each party, then empathize completely, and finally educate all on everyone else’s priorities and feelings.’

Next step is to prune the priority list and remove the deadwood.

How to Focus on Where You Can Succeed

There’s an old Russian saying, ‘you can’t chase two rabbits at the same time.’ Instead, focus on what you already have and make this your god. One reason we prefer to chase many rabbits (priorities) is that it’s an indirect way to avoid commitment. It’s also an excuse to disguise our own laziness. And then there’s the novelty factor of shiny new objects.

Instead of looking for new business, exploring new technologies, opening new offices:

  • Identify opportunities that help your company capitalize on what it already has.
  • Downgrade some priorities to a less urgent status.
  • Remove distractions that muddy the waters and disallow you from seeing what really needs to be achieved.

There is an exception to this. Sometimes you will have parallel priorities that need to be managed in tandem. Look for ways to coordinate these across business units and ensure that all parties share the same vision.

In other words, the building blocks of your strategy should be clear to all line managers. If there is a conflict, then one needs to re-examine these priorities and determine where/how the conflict arose in the first place.

Chances are it occurred when business cases and concept proposals weren’t challenged sufficiently or when ‘aggressive’ deadlines became the norm, rather than the exception.


Learn to say No when new opportunities arise. If necessary, do a cost / benefit analysis and see if you really can capitalize on this opportunity.

The final word goes to Warren Buffett: “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.

How do you manage conflicting priorities?