How many fires would you like to fight today?
How many emergency projects should you have?
How many high priority tasks should you have?
How many expedited orders are there on the shop floor?
How many "red" dots do you have on your balanced scorecard?
How many constraints do you have?
Do these questions sound familiar? Can you come up with some more of your own? It seems to me that they all boil down to the same thing:
How many fires do you want to fight?
Photo from slworking
I listened to Johanna Rothman's recent podcast on How Many Emergency Projects Do You Have? in which she answer that question for a project manager. Much of her answer had to do with some version of, "If it's an emergency, it had better be your ONLY project." And she talks about some useful strategies for preventing them. I love her comment about having planned patch releases as an admission of bad project management.
I was struck by all the other ways this same question arises, whether in projects, on the shop floor, or at home.
In project management and as an organization, you don't want to be fighting ANY fires. Sure, there is a process of prioritizing what needs to happen, and those priorities sometimes change with inevitable variation and the impact of Murphy's Law. But the whole process has to be sensible and understood across the organization, so that re-prioritizations can happen the right way and not appear to be yet-another-emergency that people put on their pile of work that they ignore.
Immediate update: D'oh! Title spelling fixed.
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