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WSJF can’t go everywhere!

On March 10, 2015, I wrote an entry on Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF), in a nutshell,  WSJF allows you to prioritize units of work using the lean concept of cost of delay and duration/time to complete. The approach provides a consistent framework for prioritization. This is my favorite of the advanced quantitative approaches. Instead of rehashing an old article (go back and read it before continuing), we will examine a few of the pros and cons of this approach.

Cons

  1. Cost of Delay (COD) is difficult to determine.  The COD is defined as User-Business Value plus TIme Criticality plus Risk Reduction and/or Opportunity Enablement. All sorts of customer and financial research can be done to generate these numbers. In practice, values are often defined in group sessions that generate consensus on the values to be assigned to COD.

    Solution — Assign research prereading to participants, establish an anchor feature for comparison,  to avoid the potential for the process to be unduly influenced use facilitation, and finally consider using relative measures for the components (this makes COD less difficult to determine).

  2. Early-stage innovations will tend to be undervalued, therefore underprioritized. New ideas that require exploration to formulate COD will generate a lower priority than well understood and studied initiatives.

    Solution — Set aside a budget within the portfolio to explore early-stage innovations.

  3. WSJF is often applied at too high a level.  This is a criticism leveled by Al Shalloway (see SPaMCAST 559 and 560. Al suggests that when WSJF is applied at the Epic level, some (perhaps much) of the functionality encompassed in the piece of work is not as high value and is not really required.

    Solution — Review the value each piece of work delivers with the Product Owner before the WSJF session to make sure the work packages include only the most important components or are at least separated so they can be discussed individually.

Pros

  1. COD and WSJF provide a consistent repeatable approach to prioritization that helps eliminate some forms of bias and System 1 Thinking (based on bias and personal experience). 
  2. Using a consensus approach fosters conversations. While the conversations needed to get to a consensus among a group of product owners and stakeholders can be difficult, the information exposed in these sessions is often enlightening and useful to understand what the business problem is and how to solve it (conversation is good). 
  3. Fluff gets removed as requests get broken down. Bloated requests and features tend to be pared down or they risk never getting to the top of the list where they will be addressed. Note – this is the mirror image of Shalloway’s criticism and is more often seen when using this technique in a facilitated consensus environment. 

The idea that organizations and programs should prioritize work based on a set of criteria is not controversial. Small not very risky portfolios with a single product owner or stakeholder should understand the concept but probably will use simpler techniques. As risk and complexity increase so do the need for structure and discipline when making decisions.  Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow discusses the need for risk policies so that real people can resist the urge to make biased knee-jerk reactions.  Weighted Shortest Job First, an advanced quantitative approach to prioritization is an important, albeit imperfect tool to address prioritization.