Make a list of all company projects and prioritize to streamline workflow.

If you’re like most contractors, you probably spend the majority of your day putting out the fires that your company set yesterday. The fires you put out today are bound to pop up again tomorrow. And here’s the bad news … this pattern is going to continue until you change the way you spend your week.

How do I know? I did exactly the same things for years at my own company.

What changed this destructive pattern? I got sick of it!

I was lucky enough to have a good-sized company where  other people were available to work on things, and deliver the products and services our company sold. But I had a stranglehold on too many things, so even though there were other hands that could potentially help me, I didn’t let them.

The staff always seemed busy already, so I didn’t want to overburden them. I didn’t want to keep overworking myself, either. So one day I mustered the courage to ask them all to bring the projects they were currently working on into the conference room. Once everyone was inside, I asked them to dump what they brought onto the conference table.

To my horror, many of them were working on projects they believed I had made a priority but actually didn’t even know they were working on them. And worse yet, two or more staff members were working on the same project but independently, so they were headed off in different directions.

It was sickening, yet a very important learning moment for all.

Small bites

To fix this problem,  we decided to write out one list to hold all the projects in progress. Then we discussed what other projects should be added to the list, those we felt we should be working on in the next year or two. We called this big, fat list our Master Project List. It was 100 items long. We had to filter it down to concentrate our mental and financial firepower.

That’s when we decided to boil the list down to the projects and habits we needed to get in place based on two filters. The project or habit would either solve the biggest problem or challenge, or give us the greatest chance to grow and be profitable in the coming year. That list we called the Top 30 List.

It was still a daunting task, so we used the filtering process once again and reached our Top Five List. These items, we agreed, would get the highest priority and by cranking them out, we’d make the biggest, positive impact at our company.

When something on the Top Five was completed (or at least 80% completed), we reviewed what was waiting on the Top 30 and together we would select which item had earned its way to the Top Five.

Putting the Top Five No. 1 List on a whiteboard is what I now recommend to all my clients. I do that because if you post it in a place where everyone sees it, a higher level of accountability and ownership exists with employees.

Below is the template for how I teach my clients to go about rolling out the Top Five  whiteboard:

  • Step No. 1: Hang it in a prominent place where everyone will see it each day. If that’s not possible to do with one whiteboard, you need to hang up two.

  • Step No. 2: The company’s owners and top management call the whole team together to let them know what the board is about by having smiles on their faces and exuding excitement while saying something like this:

    “We know in the past we’ve rolled out programs too fast, without possibly enough thinking behind them and without enough of your input. For that, I hope you will accept our heartfelt apologies.

    “What you see on this whiteboard are those Top Five No. 1 projects. It was a hard process to choose just five. But the key thing for you to know is that we as owners and managers are committed to having us as a team working on the right thing, at the right time and in the right way.

    “And that’s why we’re all excited to be here with you today to share the great news!”

    Then, you and your team need to spend a part of each week working on your Top Five No. 1 priorities so they get done.

    Remember, you must start with building your own big list of all the projects you and your company need to work on in order to get you and your staff working on the right things at the right time. Then boil the master list down to your Top 30 and finally your Top Five No. 1 projects. Work on it each week and watch how fast your company gets better!

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