Daniel Bernal

January 21, 2023

The multiple priorities conundrum

Let's assume you lead a development team and you're given the following list of priorities.

Next year's priorities:
  • Improve app stability
  • Improve app performance
  • Improve app accessibility
  • Update the app's UI design
  • Remove low-usage features
  • Improve Quality

Where would you start? — Does that mean you have to do all of that next year? — Is the first item on the list more important than the rest? 

Now, let's say they give you a numbered list like this:

Next year's priorities:
  1. Improve app stability
  2. Improve app performance
  3. Improve app accessibility
  4. Update the app's UI design
  5. Remove low-usage features
  6. Improve Quality

Seems better, right? You now sense that app stability is what you should focus on first, but how do you know when to move to the second or third item on the list? — What if improving stability makes the app slower or requires removing existing accessibility features? — What if changing the design brings additional stability issues?

The reality is that having multiple priorities is the same as having no focus at all.

If you want to prioritize "Improving the UI," you should focus on that first, and anything that gets in the way must be put aside.

That sounds a bit radical, but if you pay attention, there's a keyword in the phrase: Focus.

Focusing on improving the UI does not mean everything you do has to be related to that. It implies that UI work always wins when there's a conflict in how you spend your time and energy.  

Let's try something different then:

Next year's priority:
Improve the app's UI while optimizing performance and improving stability.

You'd say I'm cheating and just grouped everything into one line (and you're partially correct), but the truth is, I just removed conflicts. Your single priority is to improve the UI, but at the same time, ensure that the same work also makes the app more stable and performant.

With that in mind, when someone comes up with an idea for a new project, you can ask yourself: Will that improve the UI and make the app faster and more stable?

If the answer is yes, you do it. If not, you put it aside. Simple, huh?

This single priority also gives you a baseline to understand and measure progress as you move forward. By defining initial metrics and comparing them to the results of your work, you'll be able to see through the distractions and take action if needed.

So next time someone comes to you with an extensive priority list, think twice, question what is essential, and reduce it to a single phrase. Then use that to decide where to put your focus and attention.

About Daniel Bernal

👋 Howdy!

I write iOS apps while tinkering on the interwebs from beautiful Valencia. 
Currently leading a mobile team at Automattic

danielbernal.co