Prioritising initiatives based on business value makes sense, because it helps you see return on investment. But what happens when you have a whole bunch of initiatives that all contribute to something that is highly valued, such as improving user experience.
My team was recently in this situation. Scattered throughout our backlog were a whole bunch of stories that loosely fell under the umbrella of optimisation activities. Many of them didn’t have sponsors in the business, so there was no one to plead their case. Some of them couldn’t demonstrate a huge improvement in user experience, but would deliver efficiencies for our internal workflow, and hence help free up our time to deliver other initiatives with high business value. Some resolved what we call “technical debt”, which refers to the eventual consequences of poor system design, software architecture or software development within a codebase.
So, it was clear that these stories had business value, but how would we decide “What’s next?”.
I decided to go back to a classic Agile technique that sees you measure the business value of a story against the ease or difficulty in actualising it. My approach is always to involve the team, so I ran a workshop where we gave these stories their own time in the sun. We looked at each of the stories and rated their business value on a scale of 1 (low business value) to 3 (high business value). Then we rated the stories on 1 (easy to deliver) to 3 (hard to deliver). For each story we were able to derive a priority rating by dividing business value by ease of delivery. For example, we decided that creating reusable form assets had a business value of 3, and an easy of delivery of 3, so its priority score was 1 (3/3=1). Another story had a business value of 3 and an ease of delivery of 1, so its priority score was a 3. (3/1=3). This allowed this story to be prioritised above the reusable form assets.
When we ordered the stories we’d been grooming by their priority rating, the prioritisation felt pretty right!
This technique was useful for us, both because it made us really consider the stories and their business value, but also because it helped us truly prioritise pieces of work in our backlog. What we also learnt was the power of putting our heads together to make the assessment around “What’s next?”.