Leaders have 3 options when work is piling up

confusion and business career


You and your business are running the gamut, and are drowning in work.  Naturally, the company has some problems that come up, and leadership decides small projects are needed to fix these problems.  However, these are placed on FTE’s that already have day jobs, over utilized resources, or under-performing team members and often do not truly resolve the issue. And, if these occur in multiple departments, silos begin to form and your organization heads down the path of inefficient or duplicate improvement activities. Piling additional work on an individual means that they are being spread too thin, without being able to deliver quality work.

Somehow, the finances are starting to reveal a problem and you react.  You gather your team and have a productive meeting discussing action items. You feel confident in your team’s capabilities to resolve the issue.

However, time passes and no resolution.

So ask yourself:

Did you balance the existing priorities with this new one?

Often, the honest answer is no.  And if you didn’t ask what priorities exist, or your team did not ask you to prioritize all the projects for them, then there is the risk of project priorities falling out of view.  Some items are half complete, and the investment in these projects are never fully realized.

This problem exists across several businesses, and in nearly every department including Human Resources, Operations and Supply Chain. So, what is there to do when priorities start piling up?

Leaders have 3 options to choose from:

  1. Initiate open communication and an integrated view of projects and manage it yourself
  2. Bring in outside help
  3. Do nothing
  1. Initiate open communication and an integrated view of projects and manage it yourself

Having a holistic view through a PMO (program management office) can help track projects and priorities and give feedback as to where resources are required. However, without open communication and feedback, this may not solve all your problems.


  • 50% of PMOs close within three years (Association for Project Management)
  • Since 2008, the correlated PMO implementation failure rate is over 50% (Gartner Project Manager, 2014)
  • Only 40% of projects met schedule, budget, and quality goals (IBM Change Management Survey of 1500 execs)

Therefore, encourage your team to vocalize concerns and burn-out. Bring them together and set the stage for open and direct conversation, and see what projects each of them have going on.  That way, if they are swamped or stuck, you can proactively answer these questions. It is also an excellent check-in to look at the dependencies of the projects- waiting for data, technology or decisions.

Then, bring other leaders in a room together and lead a precise discussion with the outcome of knowing project priorities, timelines and expectations for each department.

Using an ‘urgency-importance matrix’ facilitate such decisions. Remind everyone at the beginning of the meeting what the organizational goals and objectives are, to ensure alignment.

  1. Bring in outside help

If your organization has so many priorities that there is often a lost sense of direction, and lack of clarity of what is going on in each department, then it might make sense to bring in an objective, outside advisory voice.

Yes, advisors are a more expensive option, but if they are selected properly, the outside advisor plays facilitator with a purpose of doing what is best for the company.  These outside advisors most likely pay for themselves through precise organizational direction, avoiding lag time or inefficient rework, focused next steps, kicking off the team quickly and moving forward fast.  In addition, they know how to strategically question and view projects in the company, provide updates on what is truly going on, and use masterful communication to increase visibility of current objectives.

Whereas managers and leadership can do this on their own, there can be a lack of organizational trust between internal personnel, with conversations that are not open, honest or direct. The benefit of external parties is that they can more easily cross functional lines.

  1. Do nothing

Realistically, doing nothing about enterprise prioritization is the path commonly taken.  The company can decide to do nothing right from the beginning and just hope things pan out without taking a hard hit. Other times, we see companies going through the motion to prioritize, but do so in a silo, and still create rework or other inefficiencies. That’s when the frustration reaches a point that organizations give up.

Well, what happens when you do nothing to prioritize enterprise projects?  Here are some consequences typically seen:

  • Business priorities are not completed on time
  • Your team feels mismanaged, or unmanaged
  • Delayed realization of investments

As a leader, you need to step up and lead. There are times where “Do Nothing” is the right answer, but unless you are doing something about prioritizing projects, you won’t know what tasks to reduce resources for or drop altogether.

The choice is yours

Quite simply put, too much is being asked to get done well. In fact, you need to ask yourself if you have the capacity to establish a project prioritization process because it is not an overnight change. A lot of support is needed within the organization and this isn’t fast nor easy. As mentioned before, there are three options that have their own advantages and disadvantages. As a leader, you will need to assess your situation from various facets to determine which option makes the most sense to keep you moving forward both effectively and efficiently. And remember, choosing not to decide is in fact a decision and a reflection of your leadership style… so no pressure, choose wisely.