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Episode 112: Mission Prioritize

How do you prioritize?

In this episode we find our project manager with a long list of deliverables and not enough time to complete them all.  Being a skilled PM, he attempts to prioritize the list with the team.  The action is simple, rank the deliverables from 1 to 50 in order of importance.  Simple right?  Wrong!  Conflicting opinions and lack of understanding keep the team from being able to come to agreement on a ranked list.

Plan B:

So it is clear there is more than 1 top priority so our PM decides to take another approach.  Group the features by Must Have, Nice to Have, Not Important.  This is going to work better since the team will be able to focus on what is most important.  Not surprisingly, the new list is full of Must Have and just a few Nice to Have.  Still there is no clear priority and time is running out so what is our PM to do?

Weighed Shorted Job First (WSJF)

Don Reinersten, introduced the Cost of Delay in Principles of Product Development Flow.  The idea is simply that when the cost of delay is high, the priority should be greater.

Cost of Delay = Business Value + Time Criticality + Risk Reduction/Opportunity

WSJF has been documented as part of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) by Dean Leffingwell. Using Cost of Delay, features are further prioritized by including how long it will take the team to complete.  This method allows for features to be prioritized by those with the greatest value and the lowest effort.

WSJF = Business Value + Time Criticality + RROE / Size

Business Value: Determine and rank the value to the business. This could include automating a manual process or creating a new product.

Time Criticality: Consider deadlines or decreasing value if the feature is not delivered.

Risk Reduction/Opportunity Enablement: Estimate how a feature will reduce a risk such as audit deficiencies or create an opportunity like a new product in the market.

Cost of Delay = Business Value + Time Criticality + RROE

Size: Determine the size of the feature.  This is estimated by the team that will develop the feature.  This could be done using points or duration but the team should agree on the method


Weighed Shorted Job First (WSJF)
# Feature Business Value Time Criticality Risk Reduction Size Priority
1 Create Dimensions 3 5 1 13 .69
2 Develop Security 2 5 13 8 1.53
3 Update Calculations 13 3 8 13 1.84
4 Create Web Forms 8 2 5 20 .75

Steps to WSJF:

  1. Gather all the requirements and have them visible to the subject matter experts. You can use index cards, sticky notes, or a spreadsheet.
  2. Have the team review each feature 1 at a time and provide a ranking for each category. Having the team think about each category individually will take away from the anxiety of creating a number 1 and allow them to focus on what is important, critical, etc.
  • The scale used for raking features is 1,2,3,5,8,13, and 20. Note: A number can be used for each category once per feature.  e.g. For Feature 1 (see above), if the business value is determined to be 3  it cannot be assigned for Time Criticality or Risk Reduction.
  1. Once the subject matter experts have ranked each feature have the development team estimate the size.
  2. Calculate the priority using the WSJF Calculation noted above

Adding WSJF as a tool in the superhero tool belt has created success for my projects by breaking down the daunting task of prioritization. I love this method because it slows the team down to really think about what is important and creates an agreeable prioritized list of features.

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