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Established 2009

Desperately Seeking Clarity: How To Prioritize In A Sea of Chaos


There is a long-standing maxim in American business that maintains that the Chinese character for crisis is the same as the one for opportunity.

Although a linguist will probably tell you that’s not exactly accurate, the concept this saying represents is so powerful that it will likely persist for years to come. Why? Because the notion that benefits can arise from problems is an intoxicating one ? a belief that can inspire us to carry on even when things are tough.

And also ? because the concept itself, even if the danger/crisis saying isn?t linguistically accurate, is true enough at its core. Good things can indeed come from problems and challenges. – just like clarity can arise from chaos, even when you’re swimming in a sea of competing priorities with no glimpse of the shoreline to provide relief.

If that last part sounds like agency or your marketing team, it’s definitely time to start the swim towards clarity. But first, you have to begin with data. (You knew we’d get to data sooner or later, didn’t you?):

Analyze Your ROI

Create a huge spreadsheet or whiteboard of all of your current projects, large and small, and include a column for return on investment. In some cases this might be a hard core matter of numbers: ?For X cost/number of man hours, we realize Y amount of profit.? In other cases, it might be a matter of a less tangible ROI: ?For X cost/man hours, we build goodwill with our clients/employees? or ?We have the opportunity to show that our company supports a particular organization or cause?.

In still other cases, you may find that you don?t really know what your ROI is. And that?s okay. If you?re spending your resources on projects without an identifiable ROI, it?s helpful to call that fact out to yourself. Once you?ve got a by-project big picture on the ROI each project yields, you can categorize and rank each based on their bottom-line benefit for your business. Projects with murky or unknown ROIs may be some of the first that you need to reconsider in your effort to restore clarity to your overall operations.

Use Your Best Customer Profiles

There?s another column that needs to be added to your spreadsheet: Best customers. Which of your best customer segments are directly affected by the project – if any? In fact, depending on how many segments you have, you might even want to add a column for each, so that you can see if your current workload is lopsided in any way ? in other words, favoring one customer segment way too much, while under-favoring (or ignoring altogether) others. Also, you may discover that more projects than you realized have nothing to do with your best customers at all. If they also have low/murky ROI, it may be time to put something on the back burner or throw it out the window altogether.

Tactical, Practical, Strategic – or Unknown?

The last set of columns you need to add to your clarity spreadsheet relates to each project’s overall impact on your agency or team.

Is the project:


Something that you are executing because of your contractual obligations to external or internal clients?


Something that you do because it keeps things running the way they’re supposed to, like maintaining a storage space where you keep marketing materials?


Something that directly relates to the overall strategy for growing or sustaining your business?


Now that you think about it, it’s hard to say if this project falls into any of those three categories.

In some cases, projects may fall into more than one category. Once you’ve gotten a big picture, you step back and prioritize your overall workload based on the data that comes to light. If you think you’ve got too many tactical, practical, or unknown category projects, you may need to rank them based on ROI/best customer impact, and then re-think a few things so that you can find more bandwidth for strategy projects.

We do strategy – and spreadsheets – and we can help you untangle for better clarity. But first, we have to hear from you.