eWSJF - Using Real-World Lean Startup, Emotions, and MVPs in Product & Portfolio Decision Making

schedule Oct 15th 01:30 PM - 01:40 PM place Ballroom D people 11 Interested

Are you “going Agile” but your executives are still asking you for Gantt charts and delivery dates? Here’s an exercise to do with them instead. Usually, they just want to know when to check back on “the project”, and whether or not their money is being well invested.

To answer the last question, many teams have discovered the “Weighted, Shortest Job First (WSJF)” method of project prioritization. Basically, if you have two items of equal effort, but one has twice the return on investment (ROI) of the other, do the one with greater ROI. And if you have two items of equal ROI, but one can be done in half the time, do the shortest job first. But that’s not enough. We all know of projects that had great promise, but customers wouldn’t pay for it.

Lean Startup has discovered that emotions are one of the best leading indicators (predictors) of future product success. Emotional-WSJF (eWSJF) balances customer demand with Minimum Viable Products (MVPs), i.e. "this only has true business value if we can deliver within 2-3 sprints."

I use eWSJF within my teams to prioritize Epics, and I’ll show you how to use it to keep your executives happy! It replaces the conversations about “Show me a Gantt chart,” and “When will this be delivered?” My executives instead ask, “Have you talked to any customers?” or “Can you build it faster?” To which my teams respond, “Yes we have talked to customers, and they’re even helping us beta test it!” and, “The next version will be delivered in two weeks, and here’s what it contains.”

 
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Outline/structure of the Session

I’ll present an Excel worksheet for capturing values, and explain the purpose of each column. (I find Excel to be the fastest intro, but this can also be integrated into Jira, Aha!, Trello, and countless other applications.)

Each of the following column is assigned a numeric value according to the Fibonacci sequence, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, or 21:

  • Business Value - Will this increase revenue, decrease overhead, or increase assets?
  • Risk Reduction - Not only is this venture risky or not risky, but will we actual reduce our risk if we implement this feature? Higher value means higher risk reduction.
  • Time Criticality - Can we do this whenever we want (value=1), or are we legally required to, and our CEO will go to jail next month if we don’t (value = 21)?
  • Competitor Risk - Have any of our customers said that they will leave us if we don’t do this? If they’re upset but they’re not going anywhere it gets a 1, but if we’ll go out of business it gets a 21.

Timing-wise, I’ll introduce each of the columns above in 1-minute descriptions, and then I’ll describe the new “Emotional Customer Impact” column below, and how it is counter-balanced by the “Job Size” column. (2 minutes each.)

Emotional Customer Impact answers the question, “Have you talked to any customers about this?”

  • 0 - No, we have not talked to a single customer. We just came up with this idea and discussed it internally.
  • 1 - Yes, we talked to them, but they only seemed nominally interested. OR One user submitted a bug report or feature suggestion, but no other comments were made.
  • 2 - Yes, and they seemed interested. They asked us a lot of questions. But no one seemed to get emotionally invested at all. OR Multiple bug reports or feature requests were submitted, but they didn’t respond when we tried to call them.
  • 3 - Yes, and I could see/hear that they were upset/enthusiastic (emotional), though that emotion was largely localized to just their face. OR Someone took the time to call our help desk, instead of just submitting a bug report, and they sounded pretty emotional.
  • 4 - Yes, and they were so emotional about it that their whole body was activated. OR One of our customers came to us because this has been causing them stress throughout their organization. So their CEO/VP told our CEO/VP, who is now upset that they had to hear about it from outside the organization.

In eWSJF we measure Job Size in the number of sprints.

When all numbers are filled out, then the following calculation is applied to each proposed feature.

eWSJF Score = ( (Emotional Customer Impact x Business Value) + Time Criticality + Risk Reduction + Customer Risk ) / Job Size

I’ll wrap up by giving examples of how the worksheet is used with my clients. (2 minutes) We use this at prioritization meetings between multiple teams using Planning Poker cards. Product Owners from all the teams get to vote on the values, and they negotiate among themselves about whether Team X’s feature is more valuable or less valuable than Team Y’s feature. It resolves debate between teams using data, and every team can increase their score by either talking to more customers (increasing Emotional Customer Impact), or reducing Job Size by using MVPs to release a smaller version of the feature in less time.

Learning Outcome

  • How to prioritize portfolio backlogs
  • How to compare vastly different projects from different teams fairly using data
  • How to educate your teams about their real-world impact on your Business Models
  • How to encourage your teams to talk to each other using concrete data
  • How to encourage your teams to talk to customers
  • How to encourage your teams to design Minimum Viable Products (MVPs)

Target Audience

Executives, Portfolio Managers, Product Managers, and anyone who has to decide where to spend their money!

Prerequisite

  • An understanding of business value
  • An understanding of risk
  • An understanding of project budgeting
schedule Submitted 3 months ago

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  • George Dinwiddie
    By George Dinwiddie  ~  3 months ago
    reply Reply

    How do you determine “Emotional Customer Impact?"

    What gives you confidence that the coefficients for different inputs, (Emotional Impact, User/Biz Value, Time Criticality, Risk Reduction, Competitor Risk, # of Sprints) are weighted for the best outcome?

    The abstract tells us what you do, but it doesn't identify a target audience so they know they should be in the session, and it doesn't tell them what benefit they will get from being in the session.

    • Pete Oliver-Krueger
      By Pete Oliver-Krueger  ~  3 months ago
      reply Reply

      I didn’t want to give it away in the description, but I have a 4-point scale for measuring emotional reactions that has a higher correlation to actual sales than the usual, “Would you buy...?” surveys. (The other inputs are already part of the existing, more popularly-known WSJF, so while I will recap what they mean, I wasn’t planning to make them a focus of the 10-minute talk.)

      I had used the Target Audience section to identify who should attend, but I can use the same calls-to-action in the Abstract as well, namely that this is for anyone that has to decide where to spend their money: executives, program managers, product managers, etc.

      What I was hoping to capture in my last paragraph of the Abstract, which it sounds like I may have not done effectively, is that this is the answer to a question I get all the time, “My executive wants me to be Agile, but also wants me to send him a Gantt chart of the entire project and hard delivery milestones for everything. What should I do?” The eWSJF alternative satisfies the executives’ curiosity and needs, without pinning the team down too early on unknowable specifics.

      • George Dinwiddie
        By George Dinwiddie  ~  3 months ago
        reply Reply

        Don't worry about giving away "secret sauce" in the outline/structure section. I'm not sure that's visible to the public from the schedule, and, in any event, you're lucky if people read the abstract. That's the place to explain what you're doing to the reviewers.

        https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1028714041349263360.html talks about this.

        • Pete Oliver-Krueger
          By Pete Oliver-Krueger  ~  3 months ago
          reply Reply

          I updated the outline section with a lot more detail about the execution, and updated the Abstract to further illustrate the outcomes and why people should care.

          Thanks for the feedback! Let me know if you have any more!


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