Business leaders are never short on big ideas or new projects to pursue. What they do lack is the time and resources to go after them all. Figuring out which opportunities to invest in and which ones to put on a shelf is a critical part of the agile transformation process.
In my last two blog posts, we talked about the need for alignment and visibility, which are the first two dimensions of every successful agile transformation. Once an organization has these elements in place, it is time to focus on sequencing.
Sequencing involves first identifying all the different projects and tasks your teams could be working on, then prioritizing them based on their potential value, timeline, resource demands and risk.
Too often, companies go after every opportunity without assigning a measure of value to the work or determining how much can realistically be accomplished in a specific timeline. This can cause every project to take longer than necessary because people are shuffling between tasks, and it can cause companies to miss critical deadlines resulting in the loss of high-value business opportunities. It also makes it impossible to rapidly respond to shifting needs in the marketplace.
Sequencing helps companies get a handle on where they are investing their resources, and how they could adapt their priorities to generate more value from the same amount of effort.
What do You Value?
To begin, companies need to define the value they want to deliver, and determine how they will measure results to prove that their projects are moving in the right direction.
Choosing the right measures can be complicated because value has multiple dimensions and proof points. Many companies will immediately go to “revenue generated” as a measure to track. While increased revenue is certainly an indication of value delivered, it is a lagging indicator and thus not very useful for sequencing. Prioritizing projects to anticipated revenues also doesn’t integrate risks associated with achieving that value in the decision-making process. This can cause companies to prioritize high reward projects without considering the impact of emergent risks on the timeline.
For example, if a gaming company is choosing which product to develop in time for Christmas, the business leaders may choose the one that promises the most significant revenues without considering the complexity of the project or the limited capacity of the design team, which may make meeting that deadline very challenging. Whereas a simpler game may generate less total revenue, but the team is more likely to get it done on time, thus delivering on the value expectation. This doesn’t mean the company shouldn’t choose the first project, but they need measures that highlight the benefits and the risks to make an effective sequencing decision.
To achieve this balance, we encourage firms to identify leading indicators as measures of value to help them forecast outcomes of various investments and track that progress.
Such measures might be opportunities in the marketplace coupled with the time and resources needed to deliver a project. These predictive measures help companies determine which opportunities hold the most potential value, to determine whether they have the capital, human resources, and time to take advantage of that opportunity, and where they many need to offset other tasks to achieve it.
It also creates space for dialog about what risks may get in the way of value delivery (i.e., timing, competitors, limited resources); whether delaying one project to achieve another will negatively impact the value of that opportunity (i.e., the Cost of Delay); and how tasks could be adapted to increase value or minimize risks.
Once business leaders know what opportunities they want to pursue, and have assigned measurable value to every project and task, they can sequence them according to priority of delivery.
Sequencing isn’t just a macro task to choose which major projects to pursue first. It is equally valuable for prioritizing deliverables within a project, or even items on a daily “to-do” list. Organizing tasks based on the value they will deliver - rather than order they were received - ensures every workflow is optimized to deliver the most value to the business.
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Andy Czuchry Jr, PhD is a proven business transformation leader with extensive experience driving strategic and operational transformations that significantly increase business-value outcomes for mission-critical objectives. Over the past 10 years of his 25+ year career in business and technology innovation, Andy has led nearly a dozen organizational transformations in national and global organizations spanning across all disciplines, both within and beyond the traditional agile core.
Andy earned Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in Information and Computer Science (Artificial Intelligence, with a minor in physiological psychology) from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College in Computer Science and Mathematics with a focus in applied algorithm development. Andy maintains numerous certifications in the domains of Agility, Lean Six Sigma, and Program Management. He is the holder of two patents issued by the US Patent Office, as well as a recognized global leader with 20+ peer-reviewed papers published in elite business and technology journals and conferences.