Chapter 6: Enterprise Agility – Prioritization, taking an economic view

In previous articles about agility outside IT, I spoke about the value-driven approach needed and the key role of the voice of the customer inside the team in creating the most valuable product in an agile organization. I would now like to share my understanding of “prioritization”, one of the most relevant activities when you are establishing a “pull-driven” method of working in an agile environment and why I think it is so relevant when you are thinking about applying some agile approach within your business.

Prioritization, or sound and clever prioritization I should say, makes a difference. There is no big advantage in having a high-performing team build a high-quality product/service in a short time if the product’s features have not been prioritized. Agile takes care of a team’s health, and it enhances respect, collaboration and autonomy. However, the purpose is always to build better products, and to constantly think about the client with the idea of being able to provide the client with a reliable product as soon as possible. Moreover, the product should deliver business value (revenue, efficiency, etc. depending on the purpose of the team) to your organization.

If your assignment is to define and establish priorities, your main concern should be to ensure that the effort of the people that will execute the task has an economic cost, and therefore there is nothing that involves costs that is more important than what they are going to do. I like to view the assignment (or self assignment) of any task in a business environment from the perspective of the investment that the company is making. The idea is then to obtain a return on that investment (don’t forget that most of us are paid according to the time we spend on work activities). In an agile environment, there should (hopefully) be somebody with a clear vision to transmit an economic and pragmatic view of the priorities at any time.

This doesn’t mean that the priorities cannot be discussed and negotiated. Rather, it means that when you draw up an ordered list of things to do, you can share your list and explain clearly the idea behind your prioritization to the people in charge of realizing the task in question. This will probably allow them to better understand your business view and they will be able to suggest other requirements or adjust your requirements in order to maximize the return on the investment.

There are several techniques you can apply when prioritizing activities, just take a look around the internet, consult the sources and start with the technique that fits best with your business/industry. Starting to work with Agile means that your priority should be to try and adjust your prioritization method in a short space of time with real results, and adjust it if the results were not the expected ones.

My last suggestion: don’t become paralyzed by looking for the magic formula for work prioritization – it probably doesn’t exist.

Next chapter: Enterprise Agility – Collaboration as a key success factor

Chapter 1: Enterprise Agility – Agile 4 All
Chapter 2: Enterprise Agility – No value, no party
Chapter 3: Enterprise Agility – Finding and managing business process boundaries 
Chapter 4: Enterprise Agility – Help me help you!
Chapter 5: Enterprise Agility – Agile teams, those who make the things happen