Importance and urgency are two different things. Urgency implies a time component to the task, while Importance implies the business impact of the task. Importance should answer the question “How much of a problem is it if we don’t do this?”
Something can be Important but not Urgent, such as refactoring or site speed improvements. It has a high impact but does not change value significantly from day to day.
Something can be Urgent but not Important, such as sending a tweet to say “Merry Christmas!” It’s low impact, but its value changes drastically from day to day – it is worthless on Dec 26.
Each Cantilever task should have an Importance level on the simple scale of “Critical”, “High”, “Medium”, “Low”.
Project managers can use this as a control to direct attention towards things that they want the team to focus on sooner, regardless of the due date. For example, if it’s Monday and the Artisan has something assigned to them with low Importance due Wednesday but something high Importance due Friday, they may want to focus on the Friday task as long as they are confident you can hit the Wednesday date.
Importance is a team- and project-wide metric. Therefore all project managers should try to use similar standards for what kinds of needs merit different kinds of urgency.
- Critical: Site is down.
- High: A major feature that the client is reliant on to deploy a new ad campaign
- Medium: A typical new feature that has substantial business impact
- Low: A minor bug that only a few people would notice
Importance vs. Priority
In our definition, Priority is different from Importance. Priority means the order in which things should be done. Individuals work on tasks according to the priority order that makes sense to them, based on the information they have.
Priority is not something project managers can easily decide in advance, because it is individual and not team-wide, and because it changes so quickly and is so sensitive to context. Something may be important and urgent to Cantilever, but low priority for a given individual, because they have other more important, more urgent things on their plate. If they delegate that task to a peer who is less senior, it becomes high priority for that peer.
This is why strategists try to establish and fix the urgency of a task, and its importance, in advance. Then individual team members make the decisions about what to prioritize, on a day to day basis, based on those pieces of information plus the other available context.
In our system we generally will not then identify priority in a highly visible way. However, we may use contextual hints, such as the order of a list of tasks, to draw attention to the items that seem like high priorities. PMs and the Big Board Boss can help continually provide an ambient sense of priority in addition to the urgency and importance already specified by the strategist on each task.