Making the Right Decision Every Time

Priority Inversions in Organizational Decision Making and How to Avoid Them

  • “Those guys in the xyz team are never going to make the deadline. Let me check in my code. I promise it’s in better shape than theirs.” [aka schedule chicken, putting my team ahead of yours and ahead of the overall project]
  • “They screwed me on the performance review last week, so I’m going to screw them. I’m outta here. I’m going across the street for an extra 10% compensation.” [Putting the individual ahead of the team, project, and company]
  • “Yeah, I know 10% of customers are crashing daily with that bug but I gotta work on this cool new feature for the next release. Performance reviews are next month and I want to make sure it’s done by then. Besides, my manager told me it was a strategic priority for the whole company.” [putting the individual and the project ahead of the customer]
  • Team. A small collection of individuals usually working on a single project — usually less than fifteen people. Two pizza rule applies.
  • Group: Several teams working on multiple projects simultaneously, for example “Engineering Division” or “The Operations Group”.
  • Project: A multi-disciplinary cross-group deliverable, usually to offered as part of a product. The next release of iOS. A new website. A network driver.
  • Customer: The guy that uses your product. For the purposes of our discussion, the customer is usually outside the company but the same logic applies if your customer is just another team within the corporation.
  • Product: what you sell to the customer. Usually comprised of multiple projects. Maybe delivered as a service.
  • Company
  • Product
  • Group
  • Project
  • Team
  • Individual Contributor
  • Make sure you hear both (or all) sides of the story. Another common cause of priority inversion is incomplete data.
  • Think about the above list every time you make a decision. If you still feel strongly, go ahead and press your case. Otherwise, let’s get back to work. After all, we are all supposed to be on the same team, aren’t we?

Former CTO of VMware, former VP at Microsoft, recovering long distance runner, avid cyclist, newly minted grandpa.

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