One of my colleagues wrote some great blogs on new business analysis techniques found in the IIBA’s BABOK® version 3. I would like to continue the series by talking about something we do so frequently, it probably never occurred to many of us to consider it a technique: prioritization.
The BABOK® calls prioritization a “framework for business analysts to facilitate stakeholder decisions and to understand the relative importance of business analysis information.” Now, since the BABOK® is the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, it focuses on how techniques such as prioritization can be used for business analysis activities. But everyone, regardless of their job title, finds themselves trying to prioritize items from time to time.
The different methods of prioritizing can be sorted into four general approaches:
- Grouping (classify as low, medium or high priority)
- Ranking (put in order from most to least important)
- Timeboxing/Budgeting (distribute a limited resource such as time or money)
- Negotiation (reach stakeholder consensus on priority)
In this blog, I will focus on ways to rank items. Most people who work on agile projects are familiar with the concept of putting a product backlog in order. Agile teams have a defined process they use to accomplish this. But what if you are not on an agile project, or you aren’t talking about a product backlog? What do you do?
There are several tools you can use to put a list into a prioritized order. Some of these tools can also be used to first whittle down a huge list to a manageable subset.
For example, suppose a group has just brainstormed a list of possible solutions to a problem. Since one of the key tenets of brainstorming is to not judge or evaluation ideas, the group doesn’t know yet which ideas are not really feasible, or which ones they should focus on. How can the group quickly reach agreement on a shorter list of the most likely solutions to consider? Below are two simple methods to accomplish this.
Doing a simple “Rank Order” is one way to discover the group’s collective priorities. This is a way to ask each person to rank the list of options, and to then compile the group’s results. To do this, first count up the number of items on the list – this is “N.” Now ask each group member to assign a ranking of N to 1 for the items, where N is the most important item and 1 is the least important. Total up the number of points for each item. At this point, you can either rank the items in order, or simply narrow down the list to the top vote-getters for additional consideration. (Tip: If you are doing this on a flip chart or whiteboard, leave several inches of space in front of the items when you are creating the list. Then ask people to put their rankings in this blank area. It makes it much easier to see and sum the results, as opposed to searching for the numbers at the end of each line.)
If you don’t want to do quite so much math, a simpler version of this is called “N/3.” After you find N, divide that number by 3 to derive N/3. Now tell each member of the group to pick the N/3 most important items on the list. No need to rank them – just pick the top third. If you are doing this on a flip chart or whiteboard, each person can use a marker to indicate their choices. (Another option on a flip chart is to give everyone fun stickers to use for their votes – but I don’t recommend this on a whiteboard!) As people vote, it quickly becomes apparent which items are “bubbling up” to become the most important items on the list. You will find that many of the brainstormed items do not get a single vote when people are restricted to choosing the top third this way. (Again, leaving a few inches of blank space in front of the list where people can do their voting makes it much easier to compare the results.)
These are two simple ways to reduce the size of a large list of items. They have the added bonus of getting co-located people up and moving around if they have been sitting too long in a meeting.