We continue to explore how prioritization techniques can change over the life cycle of a product. Using a simple product life cycle it is easy to recognize the different strategies embraced by product managers and owners. When a product is new, the goal is to establish a competitive advantage and to develop distance from its rivals. Prioritization methods such as, cost of delay and weighted shortest job first can be used to identify features that can get to market quickly, matching the product strategy. In the growth and maturity phases, models such as Kano expose the distinction between features that excite and those that satisfy. The feature mix is a function of which strategy is being pursued. For example, overweighting new features during growth will be useful, however as the product matures more and more legacy functionality needs to be maintained. Maintenance costs increase as more and more legacy functionality is accumulated leading to an inevitable decline. Prioritization, at this stage, leverages impact on crucial clients and/or cash flow to determine what to fix. This why ticketing systems exist and become the primary source of requirements for older products. As products decline revitalization projects/programs are often undertaken in an attempt to resurrect the product — a true cycle akin to rivers in the natural world. So-called next-generation products attempt to shift a product back into the growth phase which requires prioritization techniques again.   (more…)

In earlier entries, we described several approaches to prioritizing work. One of the questions that emerges when discussing prioritization is whether the same technique should be used for all types of applications. The simple answer is no, however, a bit of context is needed. One determinant of approach is where a product is on its life cycle. Note: I am using the term product very purposefully, product and project life cycles reflect two very different concepts.  The illustration below is a common representation of a product life cycle. The product is introduced, stuff happens, and then, at some point, it is retired. Whether the journey emulates a normal curve or follows a different path is not material here.  (more…)

Do not walk on the dunes sign

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. (more…)

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SPaMCAST 577 features our essay on approaches to backlog prioritization. Today we will share some background and a simple approach because sometimes a straightforward approach will fit the bill!

Also this week, Susan Parente joins the cast with an installment of her Not a Scrumdamentalist column.  Susan discusses agile myths.

Re-Read Saturday News

In this week’s installment of our re-read of Thinking, Fast and Slow we talk about risk policies. The concept of risk policies dovetails quite nicely with our discussion of story and portfolio prioritization.   

Remember, if you do not have a favorite, dog-eared copy of Thinking, Fast and Slow, please buy a copy.  Using the links in this blog entry helps support the blog and its alter-ego, The Software Process and Measurement Cast. Buy a copy on Amazon,  It’s time to get reading!

The current installment of Re-read Saturday:

Week 31: Chapter 31: Risk Policieshttp://bit.ly/2RWEqin 


SPaMCAST 578 features the return of Evan Leybourn.  Evan and I discussed HR Guilds and news from the Business Agility Institute. 

Aldi's Nuts

Count the nuts!

Quantitative prioritization focuses on counting “things” such as money, new customers, or market share. This form of prioritization has one basic requirement, whoever is prioritizing work needs to agree on at least one tangible attribute that can be identified and counted.  A classic simple approach to quantitative prioritization uses Return of Investment (ROI).  ROI is defined as: (more…)

Large switch

Requirements are more than just on or off!

The Kano Model is a tool to help categorize product requirements.  The model created by Professor Kano groups all requirements into five categories:

  1. Must-be Quality, also known as basic needs,
  2. One-dimensional Quality, also known as performance attributes,
  3. Attractive Quality, also known as delighters,
  4. Indifferent Quality (neither improve or detract from satisfaction), and
  5. Reverse Quality (reduce satisfaction when achieved).

Most typical implementations of the Kano model tend to focus on the first three areas.   (more…)

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Connect before ranking!

Simple forced ranking prioritization techniques are often sufficient. However, as the number of stakeholders with different perspectives grows or it becomes more difficult to differentiate between the priority stories or features a more complex approach is required. The matrix approach builds on the force ranking approach by formally adding a second dimension.  For example, a matrix could be constructed using the variables urgency and value. In the example below each of the variables is broken into three levels creating a 9-box matrix. The box at the top right has the highest implied probability and the box at the bottom left the least.  (more…)

List of Features

Prioritized List of Features

Prioritization is key to getting the right work done in the right order. Prioritization would be simple if there was only one point of view involved. One person with all of their built-in biases could line work up in the order they wanted it done from the highest priority to the lowest in the blink of an eye. However, the real world is rarely that simple and even if it was, the outcome of the one perspective approach might not be great, in part due to biases. For example, Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow points out that entrepreneurs fall prey to optimism bias, which makes it easy to take risks. Three macro-categories of approaches to prioritization are:  (more…)

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SPaMCAST 553 features our interview with Jim Benson.  Jim and I focused on prioritization and how prioritization can be a reflection of more deep-seated problems. One of the ideas Jim shares is that processes are the social contract for getting work done.  I really enjoy talking with Jim and think you will enjoy the conversation.

During the close of the interview, Jim talks about Modus Cooperandi’s class on prioritization.  Jim has extended a discount code for listeners of the podcast for all of the MI classes. The code is SPAMCAST20 or you can use the link:  



Jim’s Bio: (more…)

How do you decide what you're going to do (or drink) first?

How do you decide what you’re going to do (or drink) first?

Deciding which piece of work should be done first is a vexing question of any organization. Every organization finds a set of tools to help sift through the portfolio of possible projects. In organizations without some form of central portfolio control, each department or team may have its own set of criteria to decide which job to do first. Techniques for prioritization that I have seen in action range from ‘the squeaky wheel’ to a highly detailed cost-benefit analysis. One method that I was initially exposed during SAFe training was the weighted shortest job first (WSJF).

WSJF begins with the cost of delay. Cost of delay (CoD) is a method of placing a value on the waste inherent in delay. There are any number of factors that can (and often should) be included in the cost of delay. These include wait times, inventory costs and opportunity costs. Once the CoD has been estimated, the time to complete the work (also known as duration) is used as a weighting mechanism to differentiate between projects.

Donald Reinertsen, in his book The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development, provided an example that showed that if the cost of delay was the same for two jobs, you should do the shortest job first. One way to conceptualize this is that by doing the shortest job first you would avoid at least some cost of delay and deliver value sooner. Here is an example:

CoD per day                          Time to Complete

Work Item 1                          $100                                          1 Days

Work Item 2                          $100                                          2 Days

Work Item 3                          $100                                          5 Days

Doing the work item 1, then 2 and then 3 (shortest to longest) would mean 0 cost of delay for item one, $100 CoD (1 day X $100 ) for item 2 and $300 CoD (1 day +2 days X $100). A total of $400 in CoD would be incurred. Compare the doing the earliest job first to the doing the work in the opposite order (longest to shortest).

Work Item 3 – Zero CoD Accrued

Work Item 2 – $500 CoD (5 days x $100)

Work Item 1 – $700 CoD (5 days + 2 days x $100)

$1,200 in CoD versus $400 . . . I know which order I would choose.

Obviously things are typically messier with estimates of CoD and time to complete. SAFe uses the size/time to complete attribute as a weighting factor to identify the weighted smallest job (so that it can be done first). The calculation for weighted shortest job first (WSJF) is CoD/Duration. Her is an example:

CoD per day                          Time to Complete             Weight

Work Item 1                          $100                                          25 Days                            4

Work Item 2                          $ 75                                            30 Days                           2.5

Work Item 3                          $600                                          3 days                               200

The order of completion would be work item 3, then 1 and then work item 2. The total CoD accrued would be $2,428.

Prioritization is difficult, and as a result there are any number of techniques to approach prioritization. WSJF allows you to prioritize units of work using the lean concept of cost of delay and duration/time to complete, giving you a consistent economic framework. Consistency and repeatability means that logic and fairness drive which work is done in what order. Without a framework it is often the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and who knows what is squeaky will deliver the most value.