• Michael Gill

What is Your Priority, Might Not be Mine

Updated: Jan 12


Far too often priority is determined by a personal feeling or attachment to something. When we prioritize this way, we lose order and directly impact our ability to be effective, efficient, and potentially proactive. Prioritization needs to be taken seriously and should be determined through a much more scientific approach rather than pure human emotion. In a maintenance and operations world, if there are three work orders that needed to be completed by the end of the day; we should know which one needs to be done first and an order in which we should proceed. We know this because we leverage our understanding of risk as it applies to maintenance and operations (production). Two simple questions might be asked:

  • What are the risks if I do not do the work?

  • What are the risks if I do this work before other work?

If we recognize the risk of not doing the work, we may potentially see the risks of lost opportunities; which may be within the common areas of safety, environment, and operations (production). We may also recognize there are no risks; further assessment may lead to there being absolutely no benefit to doing the work at all. If we assess which work needs to occur first, we provide greater opportunities for a quicker return on investment, and/or the prevention of something catastrophic from occurring versus performing work with no real organizational benefits. This eventually occurs naturally when we develop a sound understanding of what the goals and the risk tolerances are for the organization. But we need to have an approach that eliminates subjectivity and promotes the utilization of organizational risk tolerances. Most organizations determine what their risk tolerances are, as well they utilize a risk matrix and register to manage risks. So why should we manage our decisions on prioritization any differently?


If we are clear on tolerances and we feel confident with the organizational risk matrix; there is no reason we can not model a prioritization approach based on this. First of all, prioritization does not need to be overly complex with multiple layers. In fact, a 3 priority model will do just fine. Perhaps a high, medium, and low. These 3 levels may correlate to the colour scheme already present on a risk matrix; red, yellow and green. To bring them together, we develop questions that determine exactly where the priority would fall and we are given our answer as to what our priority is, not what we think it should be. This approach may seem too simplistic at first, and it does require clarity and consensus on the questions that we should be asking. But once the correlation between risk and prioritization becomes a mindset within the organization, the doubt or the fear of this being too simple fades away.


The questions should be framed under the Safety, Environment, and Operational (production) umbrella. And similar to assessing risk, we select the appropriate answer as defined by our understanding of the impact. As we do this we can see where we would land on a matrix within one of the three areas red, yellow or green, and this provides us with an appropriate priority. We need to develop a prioritization approach that no matter who runs through the lines of questions lands on the same priority. And because we generate a mindset on risk within the organization there is very little dispute with the outcomes. And further, with technology today, this can be somewhat automated and with the use of artificial intelligence can eventually learn and adapt to responses over time, only making prioritizing easier and less disputed.


We know when our prioritization approach is not working, and we also know when it is time to correct it. There is far too much evidence showing how we contribute to the already existing bottleneck of planning, scheduling and the execution of work by the misallocation of priorities. It is time to get this fixed and fixed once and for all. Let's have a conversation on this... a phone call costs nothing!

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