Category Archives: Prioritizing

Is Your Bathtub of Ideas Overflowing?


I’ve said before, “All ideas are great ideas, but which great ideas are you going to prioritize into projects?” A father of one of the kids on my basketball team and I were talking after practice one day.  He is the CEO of a small company.  He said, “the ideas you implement should do one of two things–increase your revenue or decrease your expenses.”  Beautifully simple, I thought.

Think of your organization’s ideas for projects as the water coming out of the bathtub faucet.    The controlling mechanism to the flow of ideas is the constraints in your system, or in this metaphor, either slowing down the water, or increasing the size of the drain.

If the ideas are pouring into the tub at full speed continues, but your constraint—the drain–(e.g., people, dollars) is not getting bigger, then you’ll end up with a mess.  Too often I’ve seen organizations not realizing the impact of the faucet part of the equation (idea generation); and under appreciating the constraint side (ever heard, “just figure out how to make it all work!”)

Prioritization is like a 4 letter word, and I often wonder why it tends to scare people.  I guess saying yes to everything is easier initially, but its shortcomings become very evident later.  You need an organizational culture that appreciates both the merits of generating new ideas AND the value of determining the right approach to vetting and prioritizing those ideas—not one or the other.  Additionally, prioritization can be about saying “no” to certain ideas as well, but that’s much harder to do.

Here are three of my keys on how to approach the topic:

Ideas should tie to organizational goals and objectives

If your organization has declared what it wants to do, then ideas that are prioritized should at some level enable the organization to achieve its goals.  Beware of ideas that creatively seem to align to every goal and objective or ones where it’s a real stretch.  But minimally you need to be able to answer why you are doing it.

Ideas should have a business case

Company dollars should be considered sacred.  Assuming money doesn’t grow on trees or is printed out of the company printers, decision makers should know how much money the idea will return to the company. In addition, when promises of returns and revenue are made when the idea is pitched to the company, targets and budgets should be adjusted accordingly after the capital is spent and the idea is implemented–that’s just a good culture of accountability and it forces people to think critically.

Ideas should have to compete with each other

Competition for the company dollar will bring out the best of each idea.  You always hear about sports teams fostering competition, why is your company any different?  It gives incentives to people to creatively think about the timing, sequence, and scope to deliver the most potential value.  If your organization does not require some level of competition for which ideas move forward, you should ask yourself “why not?”

This practical approach will ensure you’re getting “A” grades on 10 things, not “C” grades on 50 things.  I’m not suggesting that you should stop coming up with ideas; rather, I’m suggesting you move forward with the ideas that will add the most value to the organization, and if done in concert with the constraints you have, you could just be swimming in success!