Priority Screening : Exercise to Help Groups Define and Prioritize

Posted on by Brandon Klein

This is a specific type of model that you might ask participants to build. The concept is simple: groups often come into conflict around prioritization. Everyone may agree that each project under consideration is worthwhile, but bitterly contest the sequence, pace or allocation of resources assigned each project. The arguments become especially heated when specific projects are discussed. So instead, have participants build a model of their criteria for accepting projects and assigning resources to them. Ask them to design a process for evaluating projects using their agreed-upon criteria. In finished form, this process takes proposed projects through a series of tests (the screens); like soil shaken through a series of sieves, each with a finer mesh, certain projects are blocked (or collected) at different levels along the way.

To assist a group in resolving a problem by defining underlying principles rather than arguing over specific examples.

This is often a Focus or Act assignment, for a DesignTeam or Teams. Requires a typical DesignTeam round (approx. 90 - 120 minutes design, 5 to 10 minutes per team to report).

Strengths — Focuses the discussion on principles. Gets participants to build process models as a way of resolving issues. Weaknesses — Prioritization is often a dead-end; it reinforces either/or thinking, and lazy thinking, when the design challenge should instead be how to find the dynamic and creative balance that meets all the criteria or goals, not some at the expense of others. (To give a living systems example, you can’t choose whether you need a heart or a liver; the premise of the question is wrong. You need both, and should work to ensure both are healthy and strong). Also, this process may not resolve the problem: a team may successfully agree on principles, then proceed to argue as before about the application of those principles. Specifications for Success — 1. This exercise involves a fair amount of defining terms; it’s difficult to hand off from one group to another. If the group developing the priority screen is NOT the group that will be applying it later, consider other approaches. 2. Don’t use this exercise if the results are likely to turn around and bite you in the foot. If the projects you see as essential to the long-term viability of the organization are likely to be selected against, look for a different option.