Whether you're a product manager trying to prioritize new features, or a customer success manager trying to keep multiple stakeholders happy, you'll likely find yourself juggling multiple priorities — and trying to perform a miracle of time management. When you're managing competing priorities, it's crucial to have a plan in place to keep everything moving smoothly.
In this post, we'll cover what competing priorities are, why it's critical to manage them effectively, and 10 tips for managing them like a pro.
What are competing priorities?
Competing priorities refer to when multiple objectives or goals conflict with each other, or when timelines for projects overlap, affecting bandwidth across teams. It can be a challenge to balance these competing demands, especially when they involve different stakeholders or departments, whose needs may not always align.
Why is it so crucial to actively manage competing priorities?
It’s critical to have a system for handling competing priorities so that every stakeholder understands and is confident in the process for moving projects forward. A system for priority management helps you:
Managing competing priorities ensures that everyone on the project is working towards the same goals. If there’s no system in place, it's easy for team members to get misaligned and work at cross purposes, which can lead to confusion and inefficiency. This means being thoughtful about communication and feedback, as well as knowing how and when to involve certain stakeholders.
Keep project timelines for the highest priority request
When you have a clear project timeline, it can help you prioritize workload and manage different tasks for any project based on criteria like lift, number of stakeholders, effect on overall outcome, etc. If everyone working on the project understands the reasoning behind decision making and the hierarchy of steps, it increases transparency and alignment, as everyone knows where they stand.
Keep stakeholders engaged
Another way to help manage priorities is to take pains to keep stakeholders engaged and informed about the project's progress. This helps to build trust and ensures that everyone is on the same page, as well as ensures that any details you may have missed or updates that should be reflected in project timelines can be addressed midstream, instead of waiting until the project is wrapped.
Strengthen client relationships
Managing competing priorities can also help to strengthen client relationships by ensuring that the project is progressing according to the client's expectations. Having a set meeting schedule with clients to inform them about progress and any changes helps to ensure they remain engaged and have the opportunity to contribute to the process.
Here are 10 techniques for managing conflicting priorities, whether you’re new to project management or a seasoned pro.
1. Map the underlying assumptions behind the top priorities
Mapping the underlying assumptions behind the top priorities can help you identify what the underlying hypotheses are for a request, and evaluate them based on feasibility, desirability, and viability. Assumptions mapping can quickly help apply a lens of reality to your to-do list. . Start by creating a list of the top priorities, then map out the assumptions behind each one. This will help you identify where different priorities may conflict and plan for potential roadblocks.
Defining the top priority, or "north star," can help to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals. This should be the priority that drives all other decisions and actions. To define the "north star," work with stakeholders to identify the primary objective of the project, then create a mission statement or project charter that clearly outlines this objective.
3. Organize the conflicting priorities by importance
It only makes sense to handle the most critical tasks first. Organizing conflicting priorities by importance can help you prioritize tasks and ensure that the most critical tasks are complete, setting the stage for further progress.
One way to organize by importance is to create a prioritization matrix. This matrix will help you determine the importance and urgency of each task and ensure that you are prioritizing tasks that align with the project's goals.
4. Identify any dependencies affecting the priorities
Identifying dependencies can help you better understand workflows, plan for potential roadblocks, and ensure that tasks are completed in the right order. Start by identifying the tasks that are dependent on other tasks or activities.
5. Use strategies like mapping and diagramming to brainstorm and visualize connections
Mapping and diagramming can help you visualize connections and dependencies between different priorities, making it easier to plan and prioritize tasks. Mind mapping is a great tool for brainstorming and organizing ideas, while flowcharts can help you visualize processes and identify potential bottlenecks.
6. Analyze if and how resourcing will be affected
Understanding how resourcing will be affected by competing priorities can help you plan for potential resource constraints. Start by analyzing the impact of each priority on your team's workload and capacity. Then, create a resource plan that outlines how you will allocate resources to each priority.
7. Adjust timelines and update the schedule to reflect changes
Adjusting timelines and updating schedules as priorities change can help to ensure that everyone is on the same page. To begin, review your project schedule and identify any tasks or milestones that need to be updated. Then, update project time frames accordingly and communicate the changes with stakeholders.
8. Set boundaries and expectations
Setting boundaries and expectations can help to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals and that priorities are aligned. Establish clear expectations for each priority and outline what success looks like for each one.
Next, communicate these expectations to your team and stakeholders, and hold everyone accountable for meeting them. Communication tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams can help you communicate expectations and keep everyone aligned.
9. Communicate changes with the relevant stakeholders
Communicating changes with stakeholders can help to build trust and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Be sure to follow-up with stakeholders to notify them when plans change and new urgent tasks arise. Here’s a good framework for notifying stakeholders when workflows change at the last minute:
First, identify who needs to be informed of changes and how they will be affected. Then, create a communication plan that outlines how you will communicate changes and updates to stakeholders. This plan should include regular updates on the project's progress, as well as any changes to priorities or schedules.
Finding ways to offload or delegate tasks can help to reduce the workload on your team and ensure that priorities are aligned. What tasks can be delegated to other team members or stakeholders? Work with those team members or stakeholders to ensure that they have the resources and support they need to complete those tasks.
Not only does this help to make your work more efficient and manageable, but it also empowers stakeholders to take greater ownership over their work and the project as a whole.
TL;DR: Managing competing priorities is hard — here’s how to get it right
Managing competing priorities is always a challenge. It can be difficult to set priorities, practice effective time management, and even let down some stakeholders. However, by following the above tips and techniques, you can build a collaborative framework for success that makes your task list more manageable, keeps projects focused and on time, and increases transparency across all stakeholders.
To sum it all up, we’ve provided 10 action items to help manage conflicting priorities in a project:
Map the underlying assumptions behind the top priorities
Define the top priority, or "north star"
Organize the conflicting priorities by importance
Identify any dependencies affecting the priorities
Use strategies like mapping and diagramming to brainstorm and visualize connections
Analyze if and how resourcing will be affected
Adjust timelines and update the schedule to reflect changes
Set boundaries and expectations
Communicate changes with the relevant stakeholders
Find ways to offload or delegate
We’ve also gone over some resources to support these action items, including Mural's guide to assumption mapping and project north star template, as well as integrations for other enterprise tools like Microsoft Teams. If you take nothing else away from this post, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of building a system for communication and collaboration with stakeholders (internal and external) throughout the process.
One of the best ways to visualize and manage all your work is with a shared digital canvas, like Mural, which gives you the tools you need to ensure that no good idea is lost. Mural also lets you bring the whole team together across every aspect of the project, and ensures that team members can be engaged in the process from ideation through to completion.
Get started today with a Free Forever plan, and invite unlimited visitors (included with every membership), so that you increase team efficiency, prioritize tasks together, and innovate faster.
About the authors
About the authors
Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.