The Pareto principle theorizes that about 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. If we apply that to our projects, then 80% of the value comes from 20% of the requirements or the backlog.
People often prioritize using their gut feel, or by ‘the executive said so’, or by the squeakiest wheel wins, or (my favorite) everything is high priority. What’s wrong with this? If the priorities are wrong, opportunity costs can be large since we are spending time on things that don’t yield value.
We have to figure out how to prioritize so that we are doing the most important ‘things’ first. Sounds easy, right? There are many prioritization techniques out there, and the set below are not nearly comprehensive. But these have become my personal favorites over the past few years, depending on the circumstances. Let’s explore these techniques to prioritize with an eye on value.
Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF)
This prioritization technique uses a simple calculation of dividing the Cost of Delay (also called COD) by the Job Size (or Duration).
This might look confusing at first, but it isn’t and can provide some powerful insight. Take a look at the Doodly video I put together to explain how to use it.
Buy a Feature
Buy a Feature is a great way to gamify prioritization. It’s amazing how people react when they are playing with ‘money’, as if it’s real. Here’s how to play:
- Put the features on a sticky note (real or virtual), one feature on each note.
- Give each player an amount of play money (Monopoly money is great). Be sure to give a variety of dollar amounts.
- Each player can spend their money where they want. For example, if you give each player $100, they can spend all $100 on one feature, or $5 on 20 features.
- Once everyone has spent all their money, facilitate a discussion around why they spent what they spent. This is the point at which you gain some valuable insights.
Alternate Version of Buy A Feature
- Follow the above instructions, but price the Features in advance. Price can be based on complexity or effort, for example. Be sure to use the same criteria for each feature.
- Each player should get an amount of money equal to roughly a third of the total cost of all the features.
- You can even make some features so expensive such that the players have to pool their money in order to buy them. This promotes collaboration.
Dot Voting and Multi-Voting
I lumped these two prioritization techniques together because they are so similar. Just keep in mind that if you have a large number of features, you may need multiple rounds of voting, hence the term ‘multi-voting’.
- List the features on sticky notes on a wall, in a spreadsheet (download our Stakeholder Voting Template), or on a whiteboard.
- Give every voting participant a certain number of points or dots to use. I typically give them a total of points that equals roughly one-third of the number of features.
- Decide and instruct whether people can apply multiple points to one feature.
- Participants will place their dots beside the features they feel should have priority.
You can also give the participants ‘weighted dots’. For example, choose three colors of dots, and each color has more weight:
- Blue dots are worth 3 points
- Green dots are worth 2 points
- Yellow dots are worth 1 point
Scorecard or Weighted Selection Approach
Each potential item is given a rating from 0-5 in key categories. Categories might include:
- Customer impact
- Change (cost of change, complexity)
For rating items such as customer impact or profitability, we can use a scale as follows:
0 = No Impact – 5 = Huge Impact
For rating the cost of change such as cost and time of development and complexity, use the same scale but with these values:
0 = Very Hard to Change – 5 = Easy to Change
The ratings for each process are added together, and the ones with the highest ratings are set as top priorities.
The Kano Model
This prioritization technique was presented by Noriaki Kano, a professor at the Tokyo University of Science. This model is also called the customer satisfaction model.
The Kano Model is a technique that helps us determine our customers/users satisfaction with the features of our product. It is based on the idea that customer satisfaction with features depends on the level of functionality that is provided. We ask:
- How much functionality do we provide?
- How well does it function?
Kano proposed two dimensions to represent how customers feel about our products:
- How it pleases
- What it does
Features can fall into four categories of Functionality:
- Performance: These are the features that behave such that the more we give the customer, the more satisfied they are. Example: on mobile devices, typically the more storage, picture definition, and better connectivity, the better customers like them.
- Delighters (or Exciters): These are unexpected features that excite and delight us. They are attractive to customers. Example: when the smart phones first appeared on the market, people clamored to get them because they had texting, cameras, GPS, touch screens, etc. Now, those things are just expected, so over time the Delighters fall into the Expected category.
- Expected: These features are the ones that customers just expect. If the product doesn’t have them, the customer wouldn’t bother to buy it. Over time, exciting features become just expected. Example: would you buy a cell phone that didn’t have texting capability?
- Indifferent: These are features that we really don’t care about. Example: those apps that come with the phone that we never use.
In general, prioritize features starting with the Expected, then Performance, then Delighters, and discard the Indifferent.
The Speed Boat technique is great for two reasons – it has at least a couple of uses, and it’s a way to gamify prioritization!
The technique is visual and very simple:
- Draw a boat or put up a photo of a boat (typically I use a flipchart or whiteboard, or a remote tool like Miro). This represents your product.
- Tell the group that we need the boat to go really fast; it needs to beat the competition!
- Also note that we have some anchors holding our boat back. These represent the problems or complaints.
- Each participant names the anchors with those things that frustrate them, give them problems, and/or make the product unusable in some way. Also have them note how much faster they think the boat will go without that feature or with that feature corrected.
- The anchors and estimate of the speed will help you prioritize the features or fixes.
Note: you can also use the Speed Boat technique or a slightly different version, the Sailboat Exercise, for process improvement efforts using the anchors as problems in the process.
As you can see, we are spoiled for choices when it comes to prioritization techniques, so you have lots of opportunities to find the best fit for your project and team. Whichever you choose (and you can even try more than one!), be sure to make it fun so that everyone is engaged.