The simplest definition of the term prioritization is determining what is most important. Prioritization creates order out of chaos (however fleetingly) by spending the time necessary to reflect on what is most important.  In today’s IT environment individuals, teams, and even organizations fail to prioritize well and then try to do thousands of things at once.  The cult of “multitasking” promotes starting everything and then juggling and time slicing to continually appear busy. Busy is confused with effective. Work that is smaller and less consequential is often completed before work that is important.  Stephen Covey uses the analogy of rocks, pebbles, and sand in a jar to demonstrate the impact of focusing on the less important work (sand and pebbles) before addressing the big-ticket items (rocks).  If you fill a jar with sand there will be no room for the rocks (See the video at

Because what is most important can and WILL change, prioritization is a point in time exercise. In a typical team addressing features and incidents, importance and urgency wax and wane which leads to the need to reassess priority on a periodic basis. Without an approach for prioritizing work, attention will flow to whoever is yelling the loudest or to items that will provide the quickest hit of endorphins. “Prioritization is important because it allows you to give your attention to tasks that are important and urgent so that you can later focus on lower priority tasks.”

Left to our own devices, our actions reflect our prioritization process. Even if you take work as it presents itself, like the person at the post office or DMV (Division of Motor Vehicles, where I get my driver’s license and car license plates – Dante would have added another circle of hell to describe the Ohio DMV). Both examples leverage a first-in, first-out approach to prioritization (remember FIFO and LIFO from University?).  The process of prioritizing generates a feeling of control for those that have input into how prioritization occurs and potentially a feeling of helplessness or being a victim for those on the outside (which is why prioritization needs to be a team game). 

The bottom line: whether real or perceived, prioritization is a mechanism to highlight what is important and to create order in a chaotic world that reduces stress and when done well leads to more the delivery of value.