resources

How to Prioritise Like a Pro

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on RedditEmail this to someone

Taylor WescoattThis guest post is written by Taylor Wescoatt, EIR at Seedcamp. He is the Former COO of eMoov, VP of Product at Timeout and Head of Payments & Incubation at eBay. Taylor has extensive experience building startups and is focused on Product, Technology and Operational scaling. Here, he offers an efficient and stress-relieving solution to a common startup problem; how to prioritise opportunities when team-members pull in separate directions.

You have GOT to get my new signup contest widget live IMMEDIATELY! Our user numbers will never grow without it! – Marketing Director

If we don’t refactor this code the whole system WILL COLLAPSE, and I won’t be held responsible! – CTO

I’ll tell you what young people like MY DAUGHTER would find really cool… – HiPPO (highest paid person in the organisation)

Users are SCREAMING for this new feature, don’t you realise Conversion is the most important thing to the business? – YOU

Heard these before? I’ve been through a lot of different businesses in the last 20 years, large and small, in a Product capacity. Digital businesses are by their nature multidisciplinary, and all the better for it IMHO. Naturally that brings challenges and tradeoffs, and it frequently makes whipping-folk of the Product group, as definition & prioritisation gateway to the hallowed Development Resources, who really just want to write code and see it go live.

Here’s a tool that I developed with my boss Bob Parsley while I was at Netscape, where, as part of AOL, there were no shortage of Stakeholders to manage. I’ve used it ever since, usually to great effect, and I’ve shared it often, mostly to subsequent appreciation and modification.

The KPI Weighted Prioritisation is just that, you set and weight your Business Priorities (aka ranked Key Performance Indicators) and qualify your many initiatives against them. Its not a silver bullet, but it does go a long way to forcing people on to the “same page” – and dispensing with the “he who speaks loudest” method of prioritisation which leaves everyone else feeling slighted.

Table

HOW TO DO IT: (see my example on Google Docs here)

  1. Agree on your KPIs, and weigh them relative to each other in terms of how important they are to your business AT THIS TIME (eg 6-month windows). The CEO should set or sign these off.
  2. For EACH initiative, qualify the impact it will likely have against each of those priorities. Naturally you want to have a fairly consistent and objective approach to this. Ideally the Stakeholder or Business Owner themselves makes these estimates in- or for subsequent discussion with the Product lead.
  3. Take the weighted average of that initiative.
  4. Sort the initiatives by their weighted average

WHAT DO I GET?

  1. You DO NOT get “the answer”, its not perfect, just think of it as a guide.
  2. You DO get an objectively ordered list that allows you to both “check your gut” on how the ordering looks, and foster objective conversation about how you’ve set priorities for the business and agreed to rank impacts for the initiatives.
  3. You have all your initiatives compared in a COMMON FRAMEWORK against Business Goals instead of individual-stakeholder derived priorities.
  4. You have a platform for debate. “Why is your initiative ahead of mine? Oh, I see now. Lets discuss, stakeholder-to-stakeholder.”
  5. You have now driven accountability into the organisation. Hopefully you get less screaming, and more happy people in the business.

NOTA BENE : Consider once you’ve poked and prodded;

  • What goes on here? Each line item needs to be a meaty enough “initiative”. Projects, Epics, whatever you want to call them. Not bugs, not refactoring tasks, not stories, not ad units. Sometimes you may group a bunch of things, eg refactoring, together as an initiative. Risk is that it gets too long and persnickety – remember this is for the Business Owners to negotiate priority with eachother, and ultimately for the CEO (?) to decide if necessary.
  • What Numbers? In this and other metrics, the absolute scale is not important, it just needs to offer enough granularity. 1-3 probably isn’t enough. Use 1-5, 1-10, %, whatever.
  • Strategic Priorities and timing considerations (eg seasonality, partnerships, logical build sequence, business commitments, fair support of stakeholder mandates) can significantly alter the order in which you choose to deliver things.
  • Architecture / Reliability is important and its a little trickier to put in ‘business prioritisation’ terms. You may have your methods. One way to look at it is “time spent” by the dev/support team, either in terms of efficiency of delivery, or (risk of) time-spent operational systems.
  • Level-of-Effort, i.e., work required, is not used in this matrix, though at times I have included it. It adds an additional layer of complexity to the problem, and your approach will be specific to your own methodologies (eg strategic priorities above, own-roll, outsourcing, partnering, etc)
  • Negative Impacts – I have never used ‘negative impacts’ such as traffic-generation negatively impacting conversion but the model would support it if you felt compelled

Good luck and please feel free to email me if I can help.

View all resources

Subscribe to our newsletter