Operational Management

Urgent vs. Important: Maintenance Prioritization on Limited Budgets

David Albrice
By David Albrice
March 29, 2015

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” ― Stephen R. Covey

They say that two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Well… I say that there is a third certainty: limited budgets. I would go even further and say that prioritization is most certainly always one of the top three things that asset managers / facility managers / property managers deal with on a daily basis.

Within the realm of building asset management, there are three ways in which we establish priorities for the stewardship of assets (such as roofs and boilers).

Urgency vs Importance - Building Maintenance

1. Safety (“Keep people from harm”)

The health and well-being of the building occupants and their guests is paramount. Maintenance that is done for reasons of safety always comes first. Here are some examples on non-discretionary maintenance task:

  • Certification of the fire alarm equipment (annual)
  • Certification of the fall protection equipment (annual)
  • Testing of the backflow valves (annual)
  • Load testing of the emergency generator (semi-annual)

The Consequences: Many of these tasks are legally mandated and failure to comply may result in litigation, fines, penalties, and reduced insurance coverage.


2. Durability (“Keep the investment strong”)

These items are carried out in order to keep the building functioning properly for many years. The goal is to help the asset “reach” their intended service life and to “extend” their life wherever reasonably possible. A few examples are listed below:

  • Protective recoating of the exterior trim (wood, metal and other materials)
  • Lubrication of pumps, fans, motors
  • Removal of debris from roof drains and gutters
  • Inspection of the exterior sealant for discontinuities

The Consequences: The deferment of these items will shorten the lifespan of the assets and result in additional costs to the owners over the long run.

3. Aesthetics (“Keep the building looking good”)

These items are carried out to meet the needs of the owners/residents of the building. The principal goal is to keep the building beautiful. Here are some examples:

  • Washing of the exterior windows, skylights and railings
  • Painting of the lobby and interior hallways
  • Mowing of the lawns, pruning of the shrubs

The Consequences: While curbside appeal is important for marketing purposes and resale value, these items do not jeopardize the health of the building and the safety of the residents. There is some level of discretion.

Pulling the pieces together

While it may sometimes feel like everything is important, it is useful to recognize that not everything is urgent. Here is a short video on a useful prioritization tool. Go ahead and try using the tool by downloading the template below.

Download Matrix Template

Which prioritization techniques have you used? Which technique has worked best for you?


David Albrice

David Albrice

David is a certified professional reserve analyst, and a specialist in building maintenance and planning.