Effective Prioritization: A Balance of Timeline Planning, Rice, Precision, And Accuracy
2 March, 2020
CPO at Bluevine
In my career, I have learned a lot about effective prioritization, and I have learned different methods that have helped me learn what works best for me. The importance of prioritization is especially true when working with distributed teams.
One of the biggest problems with distributed teams is getting them aligned and doing it efficiently. Here are some of the crucial questions to consider:
- How will you make sure communication is clear?
- How do you know you're not doing a bunch of busywork?
- How do you prioritize in a way so that teams will be able to scale?
- How easy is it for the teams to translate the prioritization framework among themselves so they can produce something that aligns with the goals and objectives?
The first step in prioritization is understanding what you're solving and why. This understanding helps establish the when and how, which develops interchangeably.
With that, you want to make a couple of things apparent to start planning the timeline. Depending on the organization, this can take four to six weeks per quarter. The period needed to establish a timeline is dependent on the number of parties involved, and the culture of the organization with a big correlation to how precise they want the planning process to be.
We'll run the timeline through the right leads, our CTO, and our CEO, who are all very involved in the decision making process. We do this to make sure we’re in alignment and agreement with everything proposed for the quarter.
For example, when we launched our bank for small businesses, we had to start by figuring out how we were going to build it.
We broke the tasks and goals into chunks and said, "This quarter is really about the web app, and next quarter is about the mobile app."
And then, we needed to develop a framework around prioritization. For me, I use the Rice Prioritization Framework, which stands for reach, impact, confidence, and effort. This framework will give you some sort of unit of measure to work with and plan around.
The measure isn't necessarily useful in an absolute sense but becomes more useful from a relative perspective.
With reach, you pick a measure to follow, which could be the number of customers, or a dollar amount if it’s tied to revenue or CTS for example. You must be consistent with the reach measurement. If you are using the number of customers, you should use customers as your currency across all your estimates. If you are using dollars saved or dollars earned, then use dollars across all teams.
Impact becomes a multiplier of the work. Does it impact 1,000 people? Or does it impact the base of all my clients? It becomes this magnitude and unit.
With confidence, you must measure how confident you are in your work. How confident are you in your assessment of these numbers? How confident are you in the effort to build?
The last one, effort, is a measure of the work that a member of your team can complete in the timeline.
The whole idea here is not to be too granular, but to give you some sort of unit of measure that helps you understand how each factor will affect your prioritization framework. The score you calculate gives a numerical number that allows you to measure across everything you need to and compare against other items that are prioritized in your backlog.
That being said, the system can always be gamed in that it's garbage in, garbage out. What’s important is to be impartial or unbiased throughout. You can verify your work by what I call "the gut check" as you work through establishing the framework. You need to do a quick check to make sure that things align and make sense. Once you do that, you should have a semblance of a plan.
Mostly, you're trying to make something that's qualitative, a little more quantitative without replacing the full-on qualitative aspect of it.
I have learned that this approach allows for a more predictable process over time. People will start understanding the principles by which you are prioritizing as it relates to the timeline, the process, and what matters most.
A predictable process allows people to be proactive so they can start planning and gather any necessary data or any critical information for the next quarterly planning process. They're already thinking about the prioritization process in general, what to do next and why it matters.
The other takeaway is that it drives precision. For me, precision and accuracy are quite different.
Think about it like you are shooting basketball hoops. If your shots are always making it in the net, you are accurate as it relates to the objective. For precision though, how much are you on with each shot? I could shoot five shots, and they all miss to the right hitting the same spot. I'm not accurate in terms of where the ball is landing, but I'm precise with those five shots.
This thinking allows you to be precise, which gives more visibility into relative priorities. That's important because, with precision, it helps you with prioritizing the right tasks.
Nicolas Bonnet, former Head of Product and Data Science at Branch, suggests establishing OKRs and goals for your team that are aligned with the value of the product as perceived by the user.
Sr Director of Analytics at Audodesk
Nicolas Bonnet, Former Head of Product and Data Science at Branch, explains why and how he built a system that allows the product team to be aware of problems before the customer does.
Sr Director of Analytics at Audodesk
Adam Surak, Director of Infrastructure and Security at Algolia, discusses the constraints his team had in addressing operations toil and how he mapped out a solution that led to autonomy and accountability.
Director of Infrastructure & Security at Algolia
Ian Langworth, CTO at Wilbur Labs, utilizes his tech industry experience and exposure to help other founders and individuals with less familiarity solve problems and challenges they have faced or will face. Though he does not consider himself a thought leader, he understands that everyone has a level of value they can provide to the world. He happily shares this by getting involved in different communities. In this story, he discusses going from an engineer to a founder to helping people in online communities to assisting another founder in hiring an engineer for the first time.
CTO at Wilbur Labs
Chris Rude, Senior Engineering Manager at Stripe, talks about focusing engineers on core KPIs over the feeling of being a ‘hero’ and fixing ad-hoc problems.
Senior Engineering Manager at Stripe