Thomas Sowell opines in Basic Economics that “[…] the real cost of anything is still its value in alternative uses. The real cost of building a bridge is whatever else could have been built with that same labor and material. The cost of watching a television sitcom or soap opera is the value of the other things that could have been done with that same time.”
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Organizations make this determination every time they choose to work on one ticket, project, or objective and key result (OKR) over another. Making this value judgment explicit is critical to a well-functioning organization. To do this effectively, organizations must understand and communicate priorities, and individuals must be incentivized to work towards those priorities.
If an organization does not understand its own priorities, it is impossible to prioritize the “right work” since that term is undefined. Organizational goals, explicitly communicated in a format like OKRs, align disparate teams around a clear set of objectives. Even on teams that collaborate effectively, a formalized, regular goal-setting process minimizes drift and overlap across teams and departments.
Furthermore, incentivize individuals to fulfill these organizational priorities. If an organization rates employees on their response times to customer requests, but the OKRs are all centered around long-term internal projects, this misalignment means workers will never achieve the organizational goals. Either adjust the employee ratings to align with the OKRs or adjust the OKRs.
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Apply this thinking to your day-to-day tasks. Is this ticket or project worth working on in light of your team, department, and organizational priorities? Are incentives structured in a way that encourages individuals to work on the projects you want them working on? If such organizational priorities are not set at all or are not clearly communicated, start a dialogue with leadership around these topics. Encourage them to provide this guidance so everyone on the team can make better decisions.
Always consider the bridge not built.