If you’re in a situation where prioritisation is straightforward and you have a single decisive product owner, you probably need to read no further.

If, however, prioritisation is difficult in your situation – maybe because you have several products or product owners with conflicting priorities, or maybe because your requirements can be complex and benefits rather intangible – this is for you.

In this case, prioritisation can be difficult and priorities are not always immediately obvious.

This simple approach might help you to prioritise more quickly and intuitively…

Draw a 2 x 2 grid. Use the bottom axis as ‘Difficulty’. Make the vertical axis ‘Importance’.

‘Difficulty’ should represent all the negative aspects, such as time, cost, effort, risk, complexity, etc.

Prioritisation Matrix

The ‘Importance’ axis should represent all the positive aspects, such as revenue, cost-savings, and (slightly counter-intuitively) the risk of not doing it.

Make the left corner of each axis ‘Low’ and the top and right of the axes ‘High’. What’s in between doesn’t really matter. ‘Difficulty’ could be your complexity points if your using Fibonacci estimating or something similar. But it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is simply one item’s difficulty and importance relative to anothers.

Plot each of your items on the grid, making an intuitive judgement about whether it’s harder or easier, more or less important, than the other items already plotted. Make sure they’re plotted roughly in the right position, relative to each other.

Get the relevant product owners to decide on the vertical position. Get the technical team to decide on the horizontal position. This is best done in a workshop with all the relevant people together. It’s also important that only those qualified to judge should influence the horizontal position!

It’s a good idea to start with the things that are clearly the easiest, hardest, most and least important. Place these in the corners of the grid to provide a useful context for other, less obvious items.

Once you’ve got all your things on the grid, think about the four quadrants. Things in the top left are “No-Brainers”. These things are clear priorities. Things in the bottom right are potentially for the bin, as these things are of the least value.

Things in the bottom left are quite straightforward to deliver but not the most important. Consider ways to make them more valuable, i.e. push them up on the grid. Could they be chargeable features (if appropriate)? Or if enhanced slightly would they be considered much more important? Of course you shouldn’t do this artificially; it’s counter-productive.

Typically things in the top right quadrant are more strategic developments. Although they’re over to the right, if you never start them you’ll certainly never deliver them. Consider ways to simplify these items. Consider breaking them up into multiple things, so bits can move left on the grid and the strategic changes delivered over time.

This might sound like a simplistic approach, but you might be surprised how many things you’re already working on that are not in the top left of the grid. And how many things you might not be working on, that are.


See also:
How to prioritise (Part II)