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Priority, Pareto, and the Gorilla List
Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th century, Neo-Classical economist mathematically described the unequal distribution of wealth that he observed in the world around him. His observation, known as Pareto’s principle, has been profitably extended into other fields of inquiry: in business Pareto’s principle tells us that a few of the inventory items will constitute most of the value; a few processes will give most of the trouble; a few line items will generate most of the cost; a few constraints will control the entire pace of operations; a few misdirected efforts will create the most issues. Expressed most simply, priority focuses on those few items that influence the largest result. Show me the money. Another common technique is often called ABC. Each line item, on an inventory or an action list, is rated A, B, or C; A being most important. Sometimes a super B category is created. Items are rated A or B or C because of importance defined in some manner; inventory for instance may consider price, usage volume, floor space consumed, lead time, number of vendors who can make the part, technology, complexity, potential of an interruption to production.
Someone has to set the priority for actions, and if management doesn't do it the guy with the wrench in his hand, or the gal with the Blackberry, will.
What's next, boss? The question may come up as soon as the last task was done, or after a break or lunch, but it will come up. And if you are not around, the employee will provide the answer. Let's make sure that the next job is the one at the top of your list.
At the time you give instructions, couple assignments and expectations. Clearly identify who, what, where, when, how. When means both start and expected completion, The level of detail will vary with the individual and with experience. Communication may be formal or informal, although some written record is better for all concerned.
1. Assignment and expectations
After all, this kind of communication is not unusual, is it? Your spouse will instruct you to take out the garbage now, then walk the dog, then get the oil changed on the Mercedes, and be back in two hours. Maybe not in writing, but pretty definite.
To determine what should be at the top of the to-do list, lets consider Pareto, and ABC.
Don't forget an item because it is a C; today it needs no attention but ignore it and it will become an A some day. For want of a nail the shoe was lost, etc.
The most effective system I ever saw to assign management's project priority, set milestones, record progress and react to issues was called the Gorilla List. And it governed resource assignment for hundreds of resources, in engineering, research and development, quality, and production people in the complex and regulated pharmaceutical environment.
3. Gorilla list
The name came from the question, "where does a 900 pound gorilla sit?" and the answer, "anywhere he wants." Senior management set priorities for projects at the division level, from one through twenty. Project number one received any help it needed from any resource, now. Project two got any help it needed except when number one was using that resource. And so on. The project manager had a good idea of how to set the schedule, milestones, and assignments from the assigned priority. The project manager selected and utilized individual resources, working across different disciplines, within their management structure.
Other projects, rated below number 20, got along as best as they could. But it was an acceptable answer for a lower priority project manager, that his need was superseded by a higher project. The system served top management priority. It was constantly reviewed and modified as projects were completed and new ones introduced or upgraded in priority.
I ran a project rated number 6, and was able to obtain and utilize resources in all disciplines just by the accepted influence of the project ranking. Progress was smooth and predictable because of the resource allocation mechanism. Even lower ranking project managers seemed to prosper, using the resources remaining.
4. Real time scheduling One effective application of the concepts in point 1 above is real time scheduling. It is especially suitable for an operation which has regular work tasks that occur on an irregular schedule, such as demand maintenance, or a warehouse put-away or picking crew. A real time scheduling program should be organized, with one source to issue instructions, a formal paperwork system to issue work and then to record completion, an estimator to define the work time expected and keep track of performance (and update the files to aid later estimates).
5. Your own personal priority Today if you only work on one thing, and that item is at the top of your priority list, you were successful. But it can be hard to focus on priority, as there will be distractions. Be sure to control your own plans, don't cede control to others. Don't let others fill up your calendar, electronically or otherwise, without your full understanding.
Thanks for the time, I hope the article was useful. JPR welcomes the opportunity to discuss your particular application.
Jack Greene, Jackson Productivity Research Inc.
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