Backwards prioritisation

Backwards Prioritisation

Imagine you’re in the middle of a big software project. Maybe, you’re replacing an internal system, or something like that. You make an observation: when asked to prioritise, everyone wants to go last. They want to hang on to the status quo for as long as possible.

Instead of beating down your door to get their hands on desirable new features, they are all running for the exits in the hope that your project fails before it impacts them.

This is logical from an economic or financial perspective. If value is to be destroyed, then you should destroy the items of least value first, and of most value last, as you maximize value-in-use in this scenario. When your action would result in reduced future cash flows, the longer you wait before acting, the better.

Imagine your home was being gradually inundated; floodwater seeping in and rising toward the ceiling. Imagine that you were waiting for rescue and knew that you could take some things with you. You might pile up your possessions in the living room. Where would you put your most treasured possessions? At the top of the pile, of course, where they would be last to suffer water damage. Though you don’t know when help will arrive, when it does you will know you have saved only the most important stuff.

Maybe, though, the new solution is just as good as – if not better than – the old, but people fear change and disruption. If the level of disruption is high, and the new solution is no better, this is indeed value destruction. However, if the disruption is less than feared, and the new solution does offer benefits that haven’t been effectively sold, then this needs to be demonstrated to stakeholders so they come seeking change. This requires senior leaders to change the framing of the project to highlight the value created, not the value destroyed. It also requires the delivery team to support the new framing by delivering a high profile change that  adds value.

Just as value-creating projects maximize value delivered by creating the items of largest value first, value-destroying projects minimize value destroyed by destroying the items of largest value last. So, if your prioritisation looks backwards, ask seriously if your project is destroying value.

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