Considerations for Prioritization


Priorities. They can fall out at so many different levels.  Organizational, program, story, task, individual, team…   I will often talk about two types of priorities.  One set for the work that we do, and another by sharing some priorities from teams themselves.

Priorities for Teams:

I am fairly retrospective by nature.  Leading by modeling the behaviors that we expect in others is a great place to start.  Be open, help determine and actively be a part of the solutions. Motivating, inspiring, and encouraging each other are important along any journey in overcoming the obstacles which beset us. Be pure of heart and value the people who shared in that journey along the way. These are some of the priorities from teams that came as they had a chance to examine and reflect:

  • Problem SolvingHow well do we attack and task apart work, bring the solution, overcome the question and form answers?
  • Grace Under Pressure – How calm are we, are we learning, were we stalled or frozen?
  • Communication – Are we all talking effectively? Did we get it? are we arguing or exploring? Was there emotion or achievement?
  • Productivity – Was this pace sustainable? Did we improve? Was this re-work?
  • Responsibility/CommitmentWere we reliable? Did we earn their trust? Did we do what we said?
  • Self Evaluation – How accurate are we? Do we know ourselves? Do we know the work? 
  • TeamworkDid we do this together? Who was left out? Are we all rowing in tempo?
  • Balance – Are we overloaded in one direction? Is there something we are not seeing? Are we aligned? How can we help?
  • Continuous Improvement –  What changed? Are we faster? Higher quality? Can we do different kinds of work?
  • Having FUNDid we laugh? Did we share? Did we let off some steam or break away for a bit?
  • Shared Vision – Common Goal – Are we all IN? Can we represent the vision? Are we Charged up the this is IMPORTANT? 
  • Collective Skill SetAre we growing? What did we learn? What did we share/teach? What was new or different about the work? Do we have the skills we need?

Priorities for Work:

It is unfair for anyone to say that they need 300 things all at once.  It is irresponsible not to help the team prioritize the list of work.  We all want to succeed at this, and having the correct alignment and convergence takes some doing.  Especially, when this is balanced across several teams.  Often our ability to critically negotiate starts with the scope of the work.  We should not negotiate the quality although in practice this is often the first thing that start sliding.  Emphasize the actionable.  Leverage and consider, but don’t be distracted or frozen even when criticized.  Be fearless and get to doing the right thing the right way.  Its all about the delivering software. When we consider the work itself – I tend to think of BIRD as an acronym. Points for consideration when making our goals rise clearly from the vast ashen grey landscape.

  • Business Value
    • Revenue – What can we sell this for?
    • Penalties – What is the fine if we miss this compliance?
    • Increases in
      • Margin – Are we more efficient?
      • Reactivity – What is the organization’s ability to do this.. 6 months or 3 weeks?
      • Quality – Is this solution robust, reliable…?
      • Product Offering – Is this a new strategic direction?
  • Impact
    • Mission Critical – Are company exists to do this…
    • Must Haves – As opposed to Should or Could Haves…
    • Core Values – We want to or already do this better than anyone…
    • Critical to Quality – Customers will not buy this unless…
    • Customer Requested – Directly from our target and not because we just feel like it…
    • Risk and Severity – Did we explore this? How will we mitigate this? 
  • Readiness
    • Capacity – Can we do more of this or do it faster? 
    • Capability – Is this a new type of work or technology? 
    • Complexity – Is this as much as we can break it down? Are we doing the simple one first to build up our skills, then try something a little harder?
    • Maturity / Vetted – Was this seen by everyone involved? Are we clear on the scope and acceptance criteria?
  • Dependency
    • Deliverables / Inputs – Did we need something in place BEFORE this work starts? 
    • Sequence – We did a vertical slice and this is the next feature that builds upon that deliverable.
    • Coordination – We might have the work of three teams coming together… Can others outside the team support us? 

It is a list I have found useful to keep around. All things being equal, tie breakers would go the the smallest work first as a tie-breaker.  This moves value through the system the fastest.  Just remember to be careful which finger you use to represent priority number one.


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