Competing priorities and maximising value

It has been about six months since my last blog post, which is a lot longer between posts than I had hoped when I first started blogging. So what has been happening that has caused this hiatus? 

The end of 2018 saw a number of family events. It was my daughters birthday, which was swiftly followed by the birth of my son. Paternity leave led almost directly into leave over the Christmas and the New Year period. 

As 2019 began and I returned to work, I found myself with a number of competing priorities and limited time available as my highest priority was time with my family. At that time my product backlog included a number of high level items (that could be construed as ‘epics’):-

  • Blog post ideas that needed further elaboration before publication
  • Turning a previous blog post into a presentation for an agile user group
  • Turning the same blog post into a book
  • Creating a YouTube video
  • Updating my website
  • Building Lego models

I found myself in a position where I needed to make some priority calls. This reminded me of a Product Mastery Quote Card by Geoff Watts.

I decided to conduct a review of my product backlog to ensure that epics were broken down into smaller chunks that could fit around my responsibilities as a father and as a husband, while still delivering value. 

Outside of my family commitments, the only epic in my product backlog that had a set deadline related to a presentation for Agile in Leeds on The FOCUSED Daily Stand-Up. I was able to break the presentation down into bite sized pieces, which ensured that the overall task was less daunting. It also allowed me to test parts of the presentation as I went along and make incremental improvements on what had already been completed. 

Possibly the most important aspect of testing was my first live test, where I found that the adapter that I had purchased in or to connect my iPad to an HDMI cable did not work. The presentation was successfully delivery on 16th April, and I have subsequently delivered a further presentation at Hainton’s Agile Meetup on 7th May.

At around the same time that I was confirmed as a presenter at Agile in Leeds and I started work on the presentation, I decided that it would also be a good idea to turn the same blog post into book and publish it on Leanpub. Again, the prospect of writing a book is very daunting, but the great thing about Leanpub is that you can publish/purchase an ‘in progress’ book. This was perfect as it allowed me to take the information from my blog post and presentation and publish a proportion of the work, which could then be iterated upon over time. 

The FOCUSED Daily Stand-Up

During the course of my preparation for my presentation, I experimented with a new piece of software that would enable me to create video clips that appeared to hand drawn. Although I did not use any of the experimental clips within my presentation, I have since been able to create and upload a completed video to YouTube. 

As noted within Geoff’s Product Mastery Quote Card, “Great Product Owners tend to adapt their prioritisation strategy to the context they are currently facing”. This is particularly true in my case, with my family taking priority, followed by the need to prepare for my presenting debut. This prioritisation had “the goal of maximising value and reducing risk as early as possible”. It ensured that I had a happy family before completing the work necessary to deliver my presentation. By delivering in small increments, I was able to reduce the risk of missing the delivery date. 

My preparation work for the presentation enabled to to gain additional value in the form for the beginnings of a book and a YouTube video with minimal effort. Continuing work on the same subject matter also reduced the risk that I would forget something through context switching. 

I am now in a position where I have completed my time bound priorities and can review and reprioritise the remaining items in my product backlog. My backlog still contains items a number of items that relate to the completion of my book, The FOCUSED Daily Stand-Up, blog post ideas, video ideas, updates to my website as well building Lego models. The item that made it’s way to the top and where I believed that there was most value was the completion of a new blog post. 

Management of the product backlog is the responsibility of the Product Owner. They will review each proposed feature and look to identify which items will return the most value, while at the same time looking to reduce risk. As Product Owners review and re-review, they will need to consider the circumstances that they are currently facing in order to prioritise the appropriate work items. This could include considering Product backlog items that may:-

  • have different stakeholders who have different priorities 
  • be time bound or that may see a reduced return on investment or market advantage if delayed
  • require a specific skill set/knowledge/experience that is currently unavailable
  • be dependent upon other work items
  • remove technical debt, which may not deliver value immediately but could allow value to be delivered faster in the future
  • the time that it may take to deliver compared with the time available

These prioritisation decisions are the bread and butter of the Product Owner role as they manage competing priorities while at the same time look to maximise value.

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