We teach prioritization techniques in many of our classes and many of the conversations we have at conferences and meetings are about how challenging it can be to get a group of people to agree on project priorities or even individual aspects of a product. As I was working on my 2017 strategic plan, I decided to write a short post on prioritization and metrics.
As a program manager at RMC Learning Solutions I have to prioritize projects and make recommendations to my management. We have many ideas for new courses, products, and services which are competing for our time. Prioritizing requires us to assess the expected value of an idea against its expected cost and then compare it to other ideas.
Prioritizing by ROI is Easy
When you can use monetary value for benefits and costs, the prioritization can be relatively easy in a for-profit organization. Although it can be challenging to estimate revenue or cost savings, you probably have some historical data to reference. When the idea has a positive expected ROI and its return is bigger than other ideas, the idea moves to the top of the list.
Prioritizing without ROI is Hard
But when your ideas or potential projects are not easily monetized, prioritizing is much harder. In my program we build some products which are offered to customers at no cost: articles (like this blog post), white papers, webinars, and conference talks are built to reinforce our value to our customers and find new customers. These products are very difficult to monetize. In marketing, we often have to connect with a potential customer many times before we even have an opportunity to present a proposal and make a sale.
Non-profit and government organizations have the same challenge. Their main value is service to their members or citizens who receive the services without a direct payment (I know that citizens pay for the services with their taxes but these payments are not usually directly tied to the service received). These organizations have to use prioritization factors other than ROI to determine relative importance.
Brainstorm New Metrics
So how can we prioritize when financial benefits aren’t available or applicable? We need to establish other criteria or metrics to use to rank the new product ideas. Ask yourself: What other values might result from building this product or solution; can these other values be measured and compared? Developing and using varied metrics makes prioritization easier. Be creative about coming up with ideas for new metrics for your organization or your department. Facilitate your team to think about the values your customers or your organization might receive by approving the project. Brainstorm on different types of metrics. For example, will the solution result in increased efficiency? Will it provide better service? Will it improve the quality of our products?
For government agencies – Will this solution:
- Enhance the quality of life of a citizen?
- Make it easier for our citizens to interact with us?
- Make our agency more efficient? More agile?
- Allow us to work more smoothly with other agencies?
- Build goodwill with other regions?
For marketing products consider:
- Will this product attract a new customer?
- Will this product extend our brand awareness in the market place?
- Will this product fill a need that our current customers are looking for?
- Will this product further or deepen our relationship with a current customer?
- How will this product impact our competitors and our industry?
Rank Your Ideas
Create a ranking for each criterion and total up the values. You could use the Fibonacci series of numbers as we do in planning poker (Learn how to play in our Agile Fundamentals Course) to make best ideas jump out (0,1,2,3,5,8,13..). This is not an exact science, don’t get stuck spending too much time analyzing, just estimate.
Benefits Ranking Example:
|Idea||Improved efficiency||Better service||Higher quality||Total Score|
Try out some of your new metrics ideas and see how they work. Sometimes by simply trying to find new metrics, your team will discover its most important priorities. Often people know which ideas are more valuable than others but have a difficult time articulating their feelings. An objective ranking can help surface your team’s underlying knowledge. Facilitating more quantitative, analytical thinking will improve your team’s future decisions making also.
My passion for critical thinking and providing business value drove me to help define the business analysis profession. The business analysis profession is made up of individuals who excel at evaluating problems, identifying possible solutions, and assessing costs and benefits before recommending a change. As an early IIBA® member, I worked on the development of a worldwide standard for business analysis, the BABOK® Guide. I continue to volunteer with the IIBA mentoring, writing, presenting, and promoting the organization and its principles.