How to Manage Tasks Priority with Urgency – Importance Matrix (UIM)?

We are excited to announce about a recent release of an additional Inventive Thinking Tool in PRIZ Guru platform, Urgency – Importance Matrix (UIM). This tool is built to help you to avoid mistakes, save time in managing tasks priority and make decisions.

The new tool is a practical instrument for tasks priority management. Urgency – Important Matrix is most effective in conjunction with Roun – Robin Ranking (RRR).

About Urgency – Importance Matrix (UIM)

Tasks priority management by Urgency – Important Matrix is widely described in the literature. You can find a lot of relevant information on the Internet. For instance, Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle,  How to Master your Priorities with the Urgent-Important Matrix, Prioritization Matrix 101: What, How & Why? (Free Template) and many others.

Here, we are going to describe our vision on the Urgency and Importance classification and also to propose a practical tool for effective management of tasks priority using Urgency – Importance Matrix (UIM) tool.

Let’s start with TASK definition. Do we understand what TASK means? What is a TASK? Try to imagine that you are working in front of your computer already for a couple of hours and you are willing to grab a cup of coffee. Please think and answer: Go to the cafeteria and drink coffee – is it a TASK? Or another scenario: Invite your colleague to the cafeteria and spend some time drinking coffee together – is this a TASK? Another scenario: your manager invited you to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee – would this be a TASK? Do you feel the difference between different scenarios of the same action – drink coffee? Sure you do.

Now try to define which one is TASK out of the following:

  • Find the root cause of the failure
  • Fetch and analyze data
  • Visit Irish pub with friends
  • Visit a doctor
  • Watch a movie…

Did you find TASKS?

You can find a lot of information about TASK definition, but we choose what we like best, the definition provided by Cambridge Dictionary: “Task is a piece of work to be done, especially one done regularly, unwillingly, something unpleasant or with difficulty.” Excellent definition. It directs us to a very trivial statement: “TASK is something that we do not want to do. We do not want, but we have to.”

Eisenhower’s decision matrix is based on very clear and effective concepts:

  • If everything is urgent, then everything loses its urgency.
  • If everything is important then nothing is most important.

The matrix is shown below:

Urgency and Importance are the axes of the chat. There is no continuous gradation of the axes, just binary separation: “yes” or “no”, “Urgent” or “Not Urgent”, “Important” or “Not Important”.

The Right top field corresponds to “Urgent & Important” tasks.
Tasks which are Urgent and Important at the same time will fall into this category. For example, addressing safety or quality issues. These tasks receive the highest priority: “Do First”.

The left top field corresponds to “Important & Not Urgent” tasks
For example, projects aiming to improve production yield, reduce cost or improve the reliability of the product. According to UIM, all tasks that fall into this category are getting priority: “Do Later”.

The right bottom field corresponds to “Urgent & Not Important” tasks
For example, participate in a meeting where you are not a decision maker. It is urgent because the meeting is scheduled to start in 30 minutes, but the importance is zero since you cannot impact the decision-making process. UIM recommends delegating such tasks – “Delegate”.

The left bottom field corresponds to “Not Urgent & Not Important” tasks.
For example, some tasks that are not impacting your current status or the status of your activity at work. Such as analyzing daylight saving impact on some production parameter. Simply drop such tasks, eliminate the tasks or the projects that fall into this category – “Eliminate”.

Do what’s important

Both top quadrants are important and have to be completed. Please take into account that “Do First” tasks are typically short term tasks, while “Do Later” are related to the long term tasks. Do not mix them. In the case you are a manager distributing the tasks, do not assign short term and long term tasks to the same people. The tasks are very different, and their successful completion depends on the ability of the people to complete a certain type of tasks. A manager has to define who is more suitable for short term tasks and who for long term tasks. In the first case, for short term tasks, a manager has to seek for “firefighters,” people that totally dedicated to a final goal to reduce the harm by any means. Long term tasks are typically performance improvement projects, should be completed by “chessplayer”. There is a very small risk of their mistake, but they spent a lot of time searching for the best move and the best solution.

Do not mix the tasks and assign them to the relevant people.

Do not waste time and resources on Not Important tasks

There is no real customer for Not Important Tasks, no one needs the results, no one is ready to “pay” for completed tasks that are Not Important. Do not waste time on tasks that fell into two bottom quadrants. Do not attend anything that is not important.

How to assign Urgency and Importance?

How do you classify a task? How can you define if the task is important or not important, urgent or not urgent? How to normalize and standardize the process of urgency and importance assessment?

All tasks are originating from a flaw. No flaw – no tasks.

Urgency

Urgency level is related to an expectation. The flaw that results in expected harm cannot lead to urgent tasks, while any unexpected harm should be treated as urgent due to its uncertainty:

For example, we all know that even an excellent and very expensive car is not an ideal. All the moving parts of the car wear out; therefore a periodic technical service is required. Known ahead of time, scheduled and expected technical service is a task, but this task cannot be urgent. This is a typical Not Urgent task.

The example of unexpected harm could be a noise that suddenly appeared in the car engine. We need to bring the car to service as soon as possible to reduce possible impact. This task is not scheduled (unexpected) and should be treated as Urgent task.

Importance

The importance is related to cost. The higher the cost of harm the higher the Importance.

A noise in the car’s engine might be high-cost harm compared to a small scratch on the car door. Therefore Low-cost harm is not important, while high-cost harm should be treated as an Important task.

Urgency and Importance assessment rules are summarized in the table below:

UIM is an excellent tool for tasks priority management, but how to use it? Should we use pen and paper? How do we keep the information, how do we continue working on the prioritization of the tasks?

We created a UIM tool for your convenience right into PRIZ Guru Platform.

Please, refer to a page dedicated to UIM for more details and usage example.

Ph.D. in Chemistry. Expert in processes design, improvement and problem-solving. TRIZ (Inventive problem solving) specialist (Level 3).

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