Prioritising versus ordering: what is the difference and why does it matter?

Deciding on the most important thing to work on at any given time is not an easy task for a project team, but it is one of the most important decisions that needs to be made, many times over, from the start of a project through to its end.

A few years ago I was tasked with being the Scrum Master on a project that had a huge amount to get through in a short period of time.

There were many perplexing elements to the project, but one of the most perplexing was that the team had prepared around 400 user stories, all written to varying degrees of detail. I would have hoped for scant detail on each, followed by a prioritisation exercise and a couple of sessions to expand on the most valuable stories.

However, we were asked to flesh out, estimate and order all 400 before the first sprint.

We spent three agonising days refining the backlog. I suspected most of this work would be of little use as many things would change as soon as the first sprint was underway.

I also attempted to run a prioritisation exercise, and I learned pretty quickly that the word ‘prioritisation’ was frowned upon, and the term ‘ordering’ was preferred.

But what’s the difference?

Prioritising, in the Agile world, focuses on identifying the business value of each story, doing the most valuable work first, delivering quickly to get feedback and then reprioritising the remaining work based on what we’ve learned.

Ordering is a type of prioritisation, but it’s based on an assumption that we already know everything we need to know about our project. In this case, ordering meant that every story was of equal value because every story absolutely needed to be completed for the project to be considered a success.

I have never come across a project that couldn’t be broken down and prioritised by value. It isn’t always easy, but it is always necessary. Without truly prioritising, the team runs the risk of building features that no one will actually benefit from, and working without any useful feedback on what was delivered earlier in the project.

Assuming everything is equally as valuable is sure to result in both time and budget running out before we deliver the most important benefits to the user.

Have you ever faced a prioritisation challenge? Has someone in your team, or maybe at executive level, advocated for their own pet part of a project over what is really valuable to the customer? Have you disagreed with your colleagues about what should be done first?

Be prepared to make those hard (but ultimately satisfying) decisions, because prioritisation drives your team’s performance and ultimately ensures you deliver value to your customer.

To find out more about prioritisation, come along to our Agile Professional Foundation two-day course with certification.

3 top tips to set up your project for success

Over the last 10 years, I’ve seen the differences between projects that start from a good place and those that don’t. After analysing the patterns, I’ve distilled it down to three critical things that will reduce your risk and give your project the best chance of success.

1. Partner with your developer

There is a traditional mindset that creates a supplier and vendor relationship which feels a bit ‘us versus them’. Your project will only thrive on a WE relationship. At Boost, we prefer to partner with clients on a project from the get-go, forming a strong, collaborative team that works together towards the same goal throughout the duration of the project.

2. Start at the beginning

Having found your partner, you need to go on the whole journey with them and not just dip in and out.

We often get clients coming to us after they’ve made strategic decisions and already have a project fully mapped out, which doesn’t necessarily set it up for success. We aren’t just about the delivery of a project; we specialise in helping clients to learn about what the customer really needs, validate ideas early, and develop and refine the right product that will lift your digital relationships to another level. We get great results that look very different than if we’d just built something directly from a requirements document.

3. Build what your customer values

Project inception is an exciting time when there are seemingly limitless possibilities. It is also a daunting time for the same reasons. You need to listen to your customer and build something that will deliver the outcomes they want.

How do you get that focus? We have been running workshops with clients for years to achieve just that. We use processes and tools that will make sure you build the right product – and nothing more. You won’t spend money on unnecessary software that has been developed because we made too many incorrect assumptions. They say that 80% of users only use 20% of features, so we start by identifying – and more importantly, delivering – that first 20%.

Check out our free workshops on setting up and running great projects!

Mindfulness and Agile – different sides of the same coin?

At face value there would seem to be no connection between Agile and mindfulness. After all, Agile is a project management methodology while mindfulness is a mental state of awareness.

But I really see a lot of cross-over connection between the two disciplines.

When you practice meditation, you’re being mindful. Your […] Continue Reading…

Railsn00bs gets a boosted presence

Taylor’s flatmate wanted a different meeting space for the Railsn00bs October meet-up, so Taylor put forward Boost’s office for the gathering and co-hosted the four-hour Saturday afternoon event of 15-30 developers.

There are about 200 people on the meet-up mailing list for Railn00bs. The October session was the eighth meet-up for the group, […] Continue Reading…

Waterfall and why it’s not suitable for software development

The whole controversy over Agile vs waterfall methodology has been covered in countless articles and blog posts. Yet I still spend a lot of time explaining the challenges and reasons why I think running a waterfall approach in software development projects is not a good idea.

In this blog post I will explain a […] Continue Reading…

Agile transition – workshopping the roles

When going through an Agile transition, companies face all kinds of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is getting everyone on board and excited about the transition. During the transition at my previous employer in Berlin I talked to many colleagues who raised concerns. I did lots of one-to-one meetings trying […] Continue Reading…