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WSJF Agile Prioritization Framework

What a priority matrix is

A priority matrix is a management tool for determining the development vector where priorities are visually divided into four (or more) quadrants.

There are matrices for personal time management and complex business projects. Most of them have derived from the Eisenhower matrix created to manage personal tasks.

A prioritized backlog visually divided into 2x2 matrix in Ducalis.io

When to use a priority matrix

Use an action priority matrix when you have limited resources and you want to distribute them rationally to maximize performance and ROI.

Placing backlog tasks into four quadrants will help you visualize their impact on the main business objectives. Focus the team efforts on one of the four quadrants to have a clear understanding of where you’re heading, what results, and when to expect.

How the quadrants work

One of the most efficient and easy to use is the 2x2 matrix. It consists of two evaluation criteria: one positive (e.g., Value, Impact, or Revenue) and one negative(e.g., Effort, Costs, or Risk).

Tasks evaluated by the criteria are divided into four quadrants:

  • Quadrant 1—high positive score and low negative score.
    This quadrant is often called Quick Wins, and its tasks are low-hanging fruit that will bring you positive results immediately. Most likely, you should do these tasks first.
  • Quadrant 2—high positive score and high negative score.
    Here are your Major Projects that won’t bring immediate results but are strategically valuable and should be considered on your roadmap.
  • Quadrant 3—low positive score and low negative score.
    These are so-called Fill-Ins—cheap solutions with no significant impact. These tasks should be further discussed and implemented only when you have extra resources.
  • Quadrant 4—low positive score and high negative score.
    These are Thankless Tasks. They bring little to no value and cost you a lot. Delete them or reconsider the solution to become more valuable.

How to create and use a priority matrix

1. Think of what is currently important to your business to come up with appropriate criteria.

Do you have deadlines, and time is critical? Or you must avoid risks at all costs?

Two criteria are enough for a fast and simple prioritization. Yet, they aren’t enough for complex projects where you must consider and juggle multiple stages of user behavior or business objectives. We in Ducalis.io estimate all the vital elements for our product and just filter the matrix by the criteria we need more focus on at some point in time.

We hide some criteria to consider tasks influencing only the objective important now.

2. Decide on the score range.

What numbers will your team use when estimating the criteria?

Each criterion should be evaluated by the same numbers with prescribed interpretation. We use numbers from 0 to 3 where 0—no impact, 1—low impact, 2—medium impact, 3—high impact.

We use criteria tooltips so that we don't have to keep in mind what they and the scores mean.

3. Estimate all the necessary tasks together with the team.

Who takes part in the project and can bring a unique perspective to the table? Does the project require only engineers or designers and copywriters’ efforts as well?

Considering each task by the whole team strengthens your shared understanding and gives the best prioritization results. In our team, managers evaluate feature Reach and Revenue, engineers and UX/UI—Development Time, and everybody must estimate Activation, Retention, and two product-specific criteria, Speed and Collaboration.

Most of the criteria we evaluate together to keep our shared understanding solid, and specific ones we leave to experts.

4. Study and discuss the prioritization results.

Why have these features made it to the top? Do you all agree they are most valuable now and must be implemented?

Never take the prioritization result into work unquestioningly. Prioritization is a tool to help you make the right decisions and not make them instead of you. Discuss your top priorities with the team at the planning meeting and make sure you all understand what must be done, why this way, and why it’s important.

To Sum Up

A priority matrix is simple and efficient. You can make it far more powerful by using automation tools. Ducalis.io allows you to create a complex prioritization framework you can use both as a weighted decision matrix and action priority matrix and switch the criteria focus in no time.

Try our matrix templates. Free to sign up and free to use. No credit cards. Just jump in and prioritize for your growth.

WSJF Prioritization Framework Definition

Weighted Shortest Job First is:

  • calculated as Cost of Delay (CoD) Divided by Duration, aka CD3
  • used to evaluate projects, features, marketing initiatives, and any
  • used to achieve maximum return of investments (ROI)

In the original WSJF framework developed by SAFe, Cost of Delay consists of User/Business Value, Time Criticality, and Risk Reduction/Opportunity Enablement. But you can use any other factors to calculate the CoD. In fact, in our WSJF templates for different prioritization purposes, you will find different criteria. In this article, we'll look at the original as an example.

User and/or Business Value

User / Business value ranks your jobs by their relative importance to the user and potential impact on revenue. At this point, you estimate how effective this solution is on the overall promotion or your North Star Metric.

Answers the question: What is the relative value to the user? How important is this for the users? What is the impact on the revenue?

Originally measured: Fibonacci sequence 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13.

Time Criticality

Time Criticality ranks the jobs by the urgency. You estimate how the value will decay over time or how many customers we may lose if we linger.

Answers the question: How urgent is it for the business? Will users wait or move to another solution? Is there a fixed deadline?

Originally measured: Fibonacci sequence 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13.

Risk Reduction and/or Opportunity Enablement

Risk Reduction and Opportunity Enablement help you highlight jobs that may not bring revenue immediately but will benefit the long run. Some solutions will help you to eliminate technical or legal risks and save your money later on. Others may open doors for further improvements that will significantly increase the number of potential customers.

Answers the question: How important is this to eliminate risks ahead? Will this feature enable new business opportunities?

Originally measured: Fibonacci sequence 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13.

Job Duration (or Size)

Job Duration is the only negative factor and ranks the jobs by the complexity of realization. It's impossible to achieve the highest ROI without taking into account the costs of person-hours required. Duration is also called story points, feature points, effort, or relative size. With this estimation, the smaller number, the better.

Answers the question: How long will the implementation take? Are there dependencies that can make it more time-consuming?

Originally measured: Fibonacci sequence 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13.

How to calculate

  • Add up Cost of Delay factors: User / Business Value + Time Criticality + Risk Reduction / Opportunity Enablement
  • Divide the sum by Job Duration / Size

Drawbacks and Cures

The main problem with WSJF is said to be its relativity. It's nearly impossible to estimate Job Duration correctly because you can't know precisely how many hours your team will need. The same goes for other criteria. But this problem isn't native to WSJF, and you'll face it using most other frameworks. There are three golden rules to help you diminish the negativity of relativity:

1) Consistency.

Use the same score scale for all jobs you estimate and through each estimation cycle. We all learn with experience, and getting used to the scale will make your estimations more accurate.

2) Use expert opinion.

It is hard for a manager to estimate development time, but it's much easier for the developers. Of course, their estimation won't be 100% precise, but it will still be more competent and accurate. And the other way round—managers and stakeholders will do much better estimating business value than developers. Collaborate on prioritization the same as you do on the projects.

3) Use your brain.

You must NEVER rely on prioritization results solemnly. Any prioritization technique is just a technique to help you decide. Not decide for you.  Real life is much more complicated than a few criteria. Always discuss the resulting top priorities with the team before starting the sprint, and don't be afraid to change your priorities manually. I can't say how many times our team did that, and I can't recall regretting it once.

Another thing about WSJF is that all criteria are treated equally. This is great for balanced development, but for sure, there will be times when you'd like to focus on user value, for example. In this case, you should apply relative criteria weights and additionally multiply the team's scores by weights. Sounds like a whole load of calculations, but in practice, it's a few seconds change if you use productivity tools like Ducalis. Change weights to whatever you need at any moment, and the Top Priorities will be recalculated at the same moment.

WSJF is a really great framework suitable for the prioritization of almost anything. With a few changes to CoD criteria, you can prioritize features, bugs, marketing, and content marketing. For these examples, you can find templates in our library. Go ahead, choose your use case of WSJF and start prioritizing in a few clicks.

WSJF

Weighted Shortest Job First used to sequence jobs (eg., Features, Capabilities, and Epics) to produce maximum economic benefit.

WSJF = Cost of Delay / Job Size

Cost of Delay = User-business value + Time criticality + Risk reduction-opportunity enablement value

Scale each parameter with Fibonacci row (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21).

WSJF Feature Prioritization

WSJF
Features
All

Business-driven feature prioritization for maximum economic benefit.

Read about other useful prioritization techniques