Blog / How to prioritise a blocked portfolio of digital products

January 20, 2015

If you’re managing a pipeline of digital products and struggling to get traction on any or all of them, this exercise can help you quickly sift and prioritise what to do next – and engage your stakeholders in this decision making at the same time.

Here’s how, in 10 simple steps:

Step 1.

Take a pile of index cards and write the name of each of your projects on a card - one for each project, or one for each piece of functionality that stands on its own. You should do this project breakdown with your stakeholders who own that project so that they agree with what the subdivision of projects are. Break big 2-3 man-year projects into stand-alone chunks of functionality on separate cards. Each card should represent a 4-week to 3-month project. Keep the cards business or customer facing functionality rather than technical implementations.

Step 2.

Gather a meeting for all your stakeholders in a room with a huge flat surface; a large table or some carpet space. Encourage them to come in person rather than delegate to a junior; there will be binding decisions made at this meeting.

Step 3.

Lay out 4 PINK post-its across the table with ‘XL’, ‘L’, ‘M’ and ‘S’ written on them. Run a very simple t-shirt sizing exercise to get stakeholders to indicate the relative size of benefit/value of each project to the organisation. Create four piles – XL, L, M and S. You’ll have one pile that has most of the cards on it and you just need to keep working through that list until you have roughly equal size piles of cards. In RED, write ‘XL’ on the cards in the XL pile, ‘L’ on the cards in the L pile, etc.

Step 4.

Gather up the cards.

Step 5.

Lay out 4 BLUE post-its across the table with ‘XL’, ‘L’, ‘M’ and ‘S’ written on them. Run the same exercise, but this time indicate the relative effort/complexity of each project to the organisation. Keep going until the piles are equal size. This time, in BLUE write ‘XL’ on the cards in the XL pile, ‘L’ on the cards in the L pile, etc.

Step 6.

Take your 8 post-its, 4 PINK and 4 BLUE and create a 4x4 matrix with PINK (Value) on one axis and BLUE (Cost) on the other. Place each of the cards in their requisite cell - this is where the different colours help speed up this process. Take a photo so you have a record of the pipeline at this one moment in time.

Step 7.

Finally, evaluate what you have - go through diagonally taking the pile of ‘XL value/S cost’ and then ‘L value/S cost’, ‘XL Value/M cost’ and continuing gathering them up diagonally so you have pile, in priority order. Lay the first 10 cards out in order and sense check that these are the best to start with.

Step 8.

Choose the first three projects to focus on using this very rough estimation and prioritisation approach.

Step 9.

Think about what point you stop adding the next value features into the first project and move to the second on the prioritization matrix. You could compare by adding in all your features in, reviewing your previous cards and repeating the t-shirt sizing prioritisation exercise above, or you could take a harsh line of 50% of features and put the remaining 50% into the backlog.

Step 10.

Keep running these prioritisation sessions as things change. They get faster and less stressful as your stakeholders understand the process and see progress.

Richard Stobart is an Agile coach and the founder of Unboxed Consulting. He has contagious energy for new ideas and building businesses that are great to work with. Richard is a proponent of the Lean Startup movement and believes strongly in their scientific approach to building value. He was Agile Mentor of the year in 2014.