Forget that Emergency! Fill Out This Form in Triplicate

Imagine this scenario: You’re in an emergency room in a hospital, gushing blood and being treated by the staff. All of a sudden, the person in charge of scheduling compliance training comes around and demands everyone stop what they’re doing and verify that they’ve signed up for the latest patient privacy compliance training seminars.

Some things in the workplace are high priority items. Routine “emergencies” are often poorly planned high priority items. Parts of the process are medium-high priority–they need to be followed as habit, but usually a single miss won’t bring the entire business to its knees.

Paying your taxes on time and filling out compliance paperwork and public filings is generally of a critical priority. If you fail to do so in a timely manner, the government or your investors will take your business down. Aside from a scenario like this, where having your business burn down or having the government take it down is a toss-up, immediate business calamity takes top priority over any business “process”.

Don’t stomp your foot because your highly important process isn’t being followed when the building is burning down. You may be the last to be rescued.

The Priority Queue, or Why the Low Priority Tasks Don’t Exist

A queue is wonderful thing… the next person in line gets the next available worker.

However, in many situations, the first person in line shouldn’t always be serviced first, for example, in an emergency room: You can’t leave a person having a blow-out heart attack in the third place in line behind a broken arm and someone who has a rash on his foot.

In these cases, you create a priority queue, and process first-come, first-serve for all concerns of like priority…  Your priority tiers in the emergency room could be something like: immediately life-threatening, potentially life-threatening or capable of resulting in permanent injury, all the way down to mild irritation [the symptom or the patient].

In a strict priority queue, if there are enough immediately life-threatening emergencies, the people with broken arms and mild irritations will not receive attention until the life-threatening emergencies go away.  If the hospital is chronically understaffed, those low priority issues will never receive any attention. In the middle of the spectrum are those whose problems aren’t immediately life-threatening but will become so if enough time goes by.

This is not to mention that at some point between serious issues and irritation is lunch for the hospital staff.

There comes a point where either the low priority and medium priority patients need to be shipped to another hospital unless you want a couple of them to become life-threatening and the rest to cause a riot in your hospital, in which the overworked hospital staff may be tempted to participate.

Just admit to the mild irritations that they’re going to have to go elsewhere to be treated–unless they have extenuating circumstances that make them higher priority than your original assessment.