Magical Top Three Things – Priority Setting for SME

By Matthew Kwan
Principal Consultant, Adams Company Limited
© Copyright. May 14, 2007

Managing time and priority in SMEs is extremely challenging as it is largely due to the fact that resources are limited and things have to do are so many. SMEs have no exemption from doing Sales & Marketing, keeping Accounts, managing Personnel and Office Administrations and yet at the same time keeping all Operations running smoothly.

One very simple way of priority setting I learnt during my Intel days is to always ask ourselves which are the most important Top Three Things (I call it as 3T from here on) at any given moment. Why it is so magical about 3T is once you ask this question, then you don’t have many choices in setting your priorities. Naming your top 3T does not mean you need to ignore all other important things you have to do, but rather keeping yourself stayed above the water with all the things needed to be accomplished in a timely fashion.

I understand that every opportunity is important to SMEs but if we cannot even handle 3 things at a time, we just have to simply “say no” or push out things to allow enough time and resources to deal with 3 things first.

Before I go in details, there are some rules that we may follow when we are using this 3T approach:

We only select the most important 3 things at a given moment; hence the list will change subject to the change of moment.
The given moment can be within next hour, next day, next week, next month, next year and so forth…
Before we can decide which are the most important 3 things, we should have a clear idea in mind what are things are required to complete by when across the board including Sales & Marketing, Accounting, Personnel & Admin and Operations…etc
Deadline is a good indicator for setting priorities of things but I would rather use “Impact of failure” to decide the priorities. The bigger the impact, the higher the priority it should be!

With the above rules in mind, now I want to list a few sample questions that we may ask ourselves when choosing our 3T in different aspects of our business affair. I am sure you can add other relevant questions to the list!

Sales
- Which top 3 customers or market segments that will bring majority of our revenue?
- Which are the top 3 deals in this moment can bring higher income to the company?
- Who are our top 3 competitors in the market in the specific product segments?

Marketing
- Which top 3 products/services of our company have higher growth potential?
- Which top 3 media are most cost effective to support our sales?
- Which top 3 marketing channels can help our products/services get more awareness in the market?

Finance & Accounting
- What are the top 3 accounting gaps that our company is facing most challenges?
- What are the top 3 financial issues in our company may hinder our growth most?
- What are the top 3 areas that we can improve our accounting accuracy?

Personnel & Office Administrations
- What are the top 3 requirements we want most in an opening job position?
- What are the top 3 problems that may deteriorate our working environment?
- What are the top 3 areas that can motivate our workforce?

Operations
- Which top 3 top 3 processes may need attention in order to improve efficiency?
- What are the top 3 issues that may hinder our overall productivity?
- What are the top 3 areas may need to increase resources?

Summary
The ability of identifying our 3T is not difficult to learn but whether we can master this art is a matter of discipline. It is so easy to make a plan without any desire of execution. I have experienced this fact myself and witness many other fellow SMEs failing in doing so very often! Therefore, my advice is making your 3T list as open as possible to your stakeholders including employees, business partners and to certain extends your customers. In such case, we may ask our stakeholders help and safe guard our 3T as well as to avoid false expectation or false understanding of our priorities. 3T may not solve all our priority conflicts but it should give us a good guideline when to distinguish our top 3 priorities when we are so buried in our work with confusion!