Adding Effectiveness to Efficiency

Two sides of the same coin

Productivity tends to focus on doing things the right way. Working harder. Going faster. Being efficient. Doing things the right way is one side of the coin. But what about going slow to go fast? Isn’t it just as, if not more, important to do the right things – to be effective.

“Better to go slow in the right direction than to go fast in the wrong direction”.

How to Prioritise and be Effective

So how we do prioritise to ensure we do the right thing? And at any level – portfolio, program, project, team and individual – can similar principles apply?

Lean and agile economic objective prioritisation can be used to enable investment decision at, say, a program level with a broad range of stakeholders and businesses with competing priorities. Research has shown that portfolio prioritisation using only revenue calculations and various weightings across business areas rarely works. Business areas fail to reach a consensus view of priority.

Key strategic decisions of this complexity, i.e. multiple business areas with competing priorities, are best made by enabling consensus buy-in with the customer also at its centre.

I have created a framework to enable decision-making in this complex scenario using the following four principles which has proven to work.

  1. The Forum: A representative group of all stakeholders is in place to reach a consensus. The outcome is a single conversation about priorities and where to invest.
  2. The ‘lean’ Canvas: This is the minimum data to enable you to evaluate the idea’s merits. The outcome is that each idea is compared using a consistent view and level playing field. For example, in a program, each initiative is described consistently outlining opportunity, scope and key attributes of Desirability (customer value proposition and validation), Viability (target customers, revenue or benefits) and Feasibility (complexity, effort).
  3. Pitching: Ideas are presented to the forum to challenge, explore and understand via a collaborative conversation. The outcome is strong tested and refined ideas with group consensus about each idea’s value.
  4. Relative Evaluation: Each idea is relatively assessed by the forum’s voting members in a time-boxed manner. The group agrees a consensus score for the value of each idea and the cost of each idea. The overall score is the Value over Cost. The outcome is that Customer is heard, a consensus view is reached with a balanced roadmap for investment achieved.

For example, with Customer-centred design in a business scenario, the value attributes are (a) business viability (let’s call it V) and (b) customer desirability (D). The cost is determined by technical feasibility (F).  Planning poker (used in agile) offers a fun way for the forum to agree the value scores. Desirability and Viability together give you the benefits and feasibility the effort. The final score for the idea represents bang-for-buck and could be D*V/F but can be tailored to be fit-for-purpose for your situation. You might consider when scoring opportunity enablement, time criticality, risk reduction, learning value and so on.

This framework can be used across portfolios at an enterprise level. It produces one holistic Roadmap across multiple businesses and becomes a living document as ideas are continuously assessed.

So can you take this to any level?

Yes you can! You can use the 4 pillars prioritisation strategy in your own team or your own area. The Forum can be any representative group or even just yourself. The Lean Canvas is just the minimum key aspects of any idea or work – just enough to understand and prioritise, i.e. a feature, a user story, a job, a task. Pitching is just about talking about the idea openly, discussing its merits so when everyone scores the work it is done in an informed manner. Relative Priority is based on two things…the criteria important to the program or individual at any time (and can change over time) – what I call anchors. The overall score is basically bang-for-buck or benefits over effort. You could simplify down to just using a pick matrix!

So next time you want to prioritise – which should be often – start by drawing a quick 2 by 2 matrix. Or if it’s very complex, implement the entire framework. But remember the Four Principles of Effectiveness and you can’t go too far wrong.

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