The Great Hunt - Chapter 41 [#100Days, Day 66]

Competing Priorities

    Throughout the previous 40 chapters, Rand, Mat, Ingtar and the rest have been chasing Fain and his Darkfriends; each for a different reason.  Mat is after the dagger, Ingtar must have the Horn of Valere, and Rand is trying to protect Emond's Field from further harm.  For all three, it seems to be a matter of life or death.  For Mat, at least, if he cannot find the dagger, he will die.  Ingtar seems almost mad in his dedication to finding the Horn.*  Rand, after seeing what happened to the villages Fain left along the way, is rightfully scared for his home.  Up to this point, the three strands were tightly woven together; it was a simple chase, Hurin providing confirmation that Fain was ahead.  Since leaving Cairhien, Ingtar is less convinced that the shift to Toman Head was the right choice.  To a lesser extent, Mat shares the anxiety - but from the perspective that Hurin is the best chance to find Fain; and until the trail is found, the days tick away.  The strands are fraying apart as the tasks compete for priority.

    Part of the job of a leader is to provide that direction on which tasks take precedence.  There's always a finite amount of resources and time in a project, and situations will arise where tasks compete for the same resources or have similar deadlines (or both).  Negotiating this quagmire involves understanding impacts of decisions - effectively shifting the OODA Loop forward to begin the observe stage from the vantage of having already made the decision about which task takes precedence.  Once the impact is understood, it's important to ensure all the stakeholders and customers understand the impacts.  Deciding which task has priority may not be your decision at all; we all have customers and they all have demands.  It may be the customers that dictate the priority; and that decision may be counter to a decision that actually drives towards the best possible outcome. 

    I usually chuckle when someone mentions "this is my #X priority."  Priority, by definition, is something of highest importance.  To rank them in numerical order invokes an Orwellian 'All priorities are important, but some are more important than others' standard for management.  While it may seem true, it can cause a tremendous amount of churn and confusion internal to your organization.  Some teams end up working on the wrong task, all the while thinking they're actually moving the organization forward.  Clearly defining the priority gives unity of effort, removing any confusion about the tasks to be executed.  Once the priority job is complete, it's on to the next job - which now enjoys the lofty priority status.  Prioritize and execute.  And execute.  And execute.

*I'm fairly certain that Ingtar says "I must have the Horn," or a variant thereof each chapter he's in.  In this chapter alone he said it three times in the span of a paragraph.  Driven doesn't even come close to describing his obsession with finding the Horn.

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