ARTICLE: too much change? it’s time to PRIORITISE

 

Most organisations have more change in their pipeline than they have resources to do it – whether those resources are suitably skilled people, budget, or capacity.

 

If that sounds like your business, what do you do about it?

The worst approach is to attempt to deliver everything.

Try to deliver too much and you’ll increase the time to delivery, fail to realise benefits from the things you do deliver, and increase burnout rates amongst your people.

Slightly better is to prioritise whatever is getting shouted about the loudest.

That might sound crazy, and we certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but the volume of shouting sometimes correlates with the importance of the topic, so it’s marginally better than trying to do everything.

Of course, we all know that “sometimes” isn’t the same as “always”, and if this is your main method for prioritising, then the chances are you’ll end up doing the wrong things.

So, what’s the answer?

A STANDARDISED, RULE-BASED PRIORITISATION PROCESS

This needn’t sound intimidating, or even time consuming. We have implemented prioritisation processes across a number of clients, and the trick is to focus on simplicity.

Read on to find out how…

DECIDE WHICH CRITERIA TO USE

Having a robust set of criteria that you measure changes against, and a straightforward, transparent process through which they’re assessed, will mean everyone knows where they stand.

And most importantly, you can be confident that your organization is working on the right things.

There are any number of criteria that are applicable to change, and the best ones to use will depend on your organization’s goals.

It’s possible to run a perfectly effective prioritisation process using a single metric, as long as it’s consistent and of overriding importance to your business, but the reality is that there are likely to be several competing criteria.

We advocate keeping it as simple as possible. If this is the first time a prioritisation process has been implemented, then pick no more than 3 key criteria to assess against.

We’d suggest:

 

  • Value – ROI, NPV, or your business’ preferred value metric
  • Implementation Effort – measured in FTE for ease of comparison
  • Strategic alignment – if you already rate this internally on some sort of scale, great use that, otherwise simply group by L / M / H

ASSESS INDIVIDUAL CHANGES AND COMPARE THE RESULTS

Capture the information for each change and bring them all together.

Any prioritisation is likely to need the results to be played back to a variety of audiences, and again it’s important to keep it simple.

A bubble chart can be used to visually compare 3 or 4 criteria without fear of losing your audience.

If you’ve used more criteria than that, then its best to describe your process as a series of stages.

The key to building trust in the process is transparency, so you need to be sure that the people it’s applied to understand how decisions are reached. They don’t need to agree with all of the answers, but if the process is consistent and understandable then it will have credibility and have a positive impact on engagement when it comes to delivery.

The key to building trust in the process is transparency.

APPLY A CUT OFF THRESHOLD

This is the point when you strip things out.

Of course, you can draw the line based on the obvious: financial constraints.

But before you rush to that answer, consider whether you can improve your success rate by choosing a different cut off… perhaps the capacity for change of the people on the receiving end; or your available delivery capacity, with a reduction built in to give your people room to work effectively.  

Be ruthless… this is about making sure the changes that make the grade have the highest chance of delivering value… it’s not about starting as many things as possible.

 

WHAT IF THERE’S A BACKLOG?

If you have a backlog of change, or it’s been a while since you assessed your whole portfolio, and the idea of assessing every change against multiple criteria seems like it’s too much, then all is not lost…

It can be done quite quickly once you get into a rhythm. And if you need to bring wider stakeholders into the prioritisation then it’s the perfect exercise for a workshop.

The beauty of a Paired Comparison Analysis is that once it’s been done, you never need to redo the exercise across the whole portfolio.

Each time a new change comes in, simply take an educated guess about where it will fit in the prioritised backlog and then assess it against that change and the next one, etc. until it finds its correct place.

If you have absolutely no idea where it fits, then the quickest way to find its rank is to start in the middle and carry out the PCA.

A word of warning about PCAs:

Logically you’d expect that choices between changes should be transitive, i.e. someone choosing A over B, and B over C, will choose A over C. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always hold. There’s even a name for our psychological weirdness in this regard – it’s called “de Condorcet’s paradox”. So when using a PCA, try to use objective criteria.

Here are our top tips:

  • Do this every time a new change is raised. Some organizations prefer to run a prioritisation process annually against the whole portfolio, but prioritising on an ongoing basis ensures you’re always working on the most valuable activities.
  • Don’t forget BAU. If you use capacity as a one of your criteria and your people aren’t 100% dedicated to change, then remember to factor in their time on BAU – running the business won’t go away while you work on change.
  • Any prioritisation process needs a consistent set of data to compare. If you have a process for raising change then try to use the information you already gather through that process as your criteria. If you haven’t, then the most important step you can take is to standardise the top of your funnel to start capturing the information you need as early as possible. Put it on a change request form and let the person raising the change give you their best guess. You can always work with them to refine it later.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of artificial accuracy. Remember the goal of the criteria at this stage are only to prioritise against each other. As long as they’re roughly equal level of accuracy you’ll get the right answer.

CONCLUSION 

Prioritisation processes can be quite complicated, and involve inputs and assessments from across the business, but to get most of the benefit from a rule-based process they don’t have to be.

Simply by concentrating on the basics above, you will vastly improve your chance of delivering the changes that will release the greatest value to the business.

And best of all, the same approach works at a variety of scales – so whether you are responsible for change across the enterprise as a whole, within a single business unit, or even just an individual programme or portfolio – you can implement a process like the one we describe and…

be confident that your people are working on the right things.

 

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