Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Simple Rule for Priorities - WIWFI

Occasionally I pull out an old axiom, dust it off and share it with colleagues or co-workers. This is one of those simple, yet very effective management techniques I wrote about in October of 1997. It worked then and it will work now. Here is the article exactly as it appeared back then.

I was surprised the other day by a phone call from a young man who was once on my staff. After the usual polite chit-chat we got down to business. He informed me that a year and a half after working for me, with no communication and a vast geographic distance between us, I still managed his time! Of course, I was mystified.

He went on to explain that while under my direction he had internalized my rule for establishing daily priorities. During the tune we worked together, there was always a variety of projects: boring, important, difficult and interesting ones. Like most people, we had the tendency to spend more time on the interesting or fun projects, while occasionally letting the more important items wait.

This is unfortunately a temptation in the fast-paced world of information technology, where new and exciting developments constantly capture our attention. Each day we are faced with a variety of golden opportunities. We could upgrade the network backbone to higher speeds, or trial a new videoconferencing system that supports the latest advancements. We could install the latest version of Microsoft Office on every desktop just to stay current.
In order to deal with this bombardment of different tasks, I suggest a technique I call WIWFI (pronounced “whiffy’”). As you look at each project on your schedule, ask yourself this simple question: “Who is waiting for it?” (i.e. WIWFI). You can also ask, “When it’s all done, who is going to notice?” and “Who is going to thank you?”
These are very easy questions that usually have very obvious answers. And based on those answers, you can generally set your own priorities.
Even after taking charge of his own shop, my former employee found himself applying the WIWFI test. At the beginning of each day, he looks over his “to-do” list and considers his options.
Envision the debate raging inside his head.
“I could fix that nagging payroll problem today. The whole company will notice. Paychecks and direct deposit receipts will contain the correct deduction for 401k, eliminating the need for the payroll department to calculate these by hand and providing accurate numbers to all participating employees.
“Or I could upgrade the e-mail system to the next release. Everyone will notice that as well. Only, in this case, it will be because the interface is a little different and some of the features no longer work the way they used to. But there are a number of very good reasons to move to the latest release. For example, it now supports a whole new protocol, POP3. Okay, hardly anyone knows what that is, but we really need to get to the next release.”
Using WIWFI, reason prevails, and the payroll system gets fixed. Lots of people were waiting for this and many individuals notice when it is made right.
On the other hand, if the WIWFI test had not been used, the decision may have been to upgrade e-mail. If everything went exactly according to plan and all users received instant, comprehensive training on changes in the new version, and all the “down time” occurred off-hours, then no one would notice the change. And I ask you, what are the odds on that happening?
One might argue there are changes which have to be made that no one will notice. I disagree. Think about it. If no one will ever notice, then how important could it have been?
Besides, it is far more likely that additional features in the new release will be overlooked, while the changes in the user interface will confuse people and generate lots of unexpected support calls. The system will become unavailable or unusable at times when it is really needed. When all the problems are finally sorted out, most people will use the new mail system exactly the same way as the old one. No one will thank you. Worse, people will still be waiting for the payroll system to be fixed!

It’s easy to ignore WIWFI and make judgments based purely on “professional expediency.” But think twice — for many IT executives faced with a choice between grumpy co-workers who don’t appreciate their work and an enterprise that gives IT a daily pat on the back, it’s a no-brainer.  

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC


  1. I LOVED this column, Joe. Exactly right!!

    1. As I recall, you liked it the first time it was published, too. In fact, you probably did some edits for me. Thanks for the feedback.