• Donald Davis

Prioritizing The Big Things (Rocks) Ensures That Everything Will Fit

Rocks = Priorities

Before I can seriously start this post there is an analogy you need to understand.  In Stephen Covey’s book “First Things First” he describes rocks as the big priorities that you need to get done. The overall point of focusing on the big priorities and getting them done can be summarized by the following analogy. If you have two of the same size jars and you do the small stuff (meetings, reports, meals) first, followed by medium items, followed by the big ones, you will most likely run out of room for the rocks or big priorities that you need to get done. 

By focusing on our priorities (Rocks) we will then be able to fit in the medium and small stuff around getting the big priorities done.

In Geno Wickman and Tom Bouwer’s book “What the Heck is EOS?” they describe “Rocks” as the following: When we think about what needs to be done to succeed in a small company, can you rapidly name the top 3-7 most important things that need to be done in the next 90 days?

Each week, when I have senior executive or founder conversations it surprises me that founders of growing companies will be focusing on operations over fundraising or looking over the horizon. This time focused on smaller things risks the success of their business.

When you start out small with 3-5 people, having everyone take on operational challenges makes sense. You are small enough and you need everyone to play from Senior Executive to Janitor as needed. Priorities are normally well understood in extremely small teams because you can easily see where things are. As the company grows though, there is an absolute inflection point where priorities need to be short term and measurable so that the leadership team can quickly understand if the priorities are really being prioritized.

One person, usually the CEO, also needs to stay focused on getting the capital needed to grow the company to the next level. If you take the eye off of fundraising or revenue generating it takes a while to get it started again.

If the key job of the CEO is to always be looking for that next round, why is it that so many CEO’s are off solving other problems in companies that are trying to get bigger? One particular CEO I am speaking with is so focused on making everything else perfect his company has actually taken a step back because they do not have the funds to move forward.

In several cases there is a real ‘roles and responsibilities’ problem because the big rocks are not defined with the individuals that are responsible for them. A CEO’s big rocks tie to creating the runway so that when the team is ready to move to the next level there is a path to do so. It is the responsibility of technical teams to have their Rocks, Operations should have their Rocks, etc.

There are opportunities to define the Rocks using the acronym PACT:

  1. Purposeful. Is the organization aligned around the reason this is a 90 day target?

  2. Actionable. Are there outputs that you can control?

  3. Continuous. Can you take continuous repeatable action towards implementing this goal?

  4. Trackable. Are the actions you take trackable?

I am a big fan of showing continuous progress towards a goal and reviewing the progress as a team. Additionally, there needs to be transparency when someone is overloaded and not working on their Rocks. Too many teams get focused on throwing someone under the bus for not accomplishing their Rocks. The key question to ask is why? If the leader is working on smaller items the team needs to rally around the importance of the big rocks over smaller ones.


  1. Are you a CEO that is taking his/her eye off of creating runway to work on rocks that should not be yours?

  2. Is your team working on the right rocks in your company?

  3. Does everyone understand who is working on what rocks and why it is important that we get these items done in the next 90 days?

#90Days #lifesciences #startup #rocks #priority

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