Ideas Prioritization: Agile Approach 

CTO Tips From the Trenches

Imagine you have a list of ideas you and your team came up with. Now you need to pick one. Or prioritize them. How would you go about doing it? The technique described below will help save you time.

The technique is very simple and based on the agile routine called “Prioritization Poker”. It is designed to make prioritization of any ideas by a group of people as time-efficient and emotion-free as possible.

To throw around some numbers: once the technique is mastered, it will take less than 10 minutes for a group of 5 people to prioritize a list of 10 ideas. Impressive compared to hours spent pointing fingers!

Let’s dive right in.

What do you need to start:

1. Your team in a room with no-interruptions

2. A list of ideas, features, design decisions, or other line items you will be prioritizing (we will be calling them ideas going forward)

3. A set of large stickers or index cards

4. Markers

5. A surface (wall, whiteboard, large table) where you can arrange the stickers or index cards

6. Pens & paper for the team members to vote

Steps to follow:

1. Write the ideas you need to prioritize on stickers or index cards. Write a unique number at the corner of each card.

2. Put the cards or stickers on a surface (whiteboard, table) arranged at the top next to each other in random order.

3. Review each of the written ideas with the team to ensure everybody is prioritizing the same ideas!

4. Ask each person to vote — to write down a number (remember that unique number at the corner of each card?) of an idea they think has lowest priority. Ask participants not to show or share what they wrote.

5. Ask everyone to hand you the written numbers. The Idea mentioned more than once must be moved to the bottom of the surface.

6. Repeat steps 4 & 5 until ideas are prioritized. On each iteration only ideas remaining at the top are participating in the voting. Also on each iteration the ideas voted down are moved above idea voted down in previous iteration.

That’s pretty much it.

The technique works best if the number of people participating in voting is greater than number of ideas to prioritize. If it is not the case you might find situation (especially on first iteration) where none of the ideas voted down by more than one person.

If such situation occurred you have two choices.

Option 1: If the number of people participating is less than number of ideas needed prioritization, just move all voted down ideas to the bottom.

Option 2: If the number of people participating is comparable to number of ideas needed prioritization then your team is not ready to make the decision. You can either take more time discussing ideas with the team, or make executive decision.

Happy Prioritizing!

About Author:

Alex Apollonsky has over 20 years of technical leadership experience in software industry. Throughout his career Alex served as CTO, VP Engineering, Architect, Technical Lead, and Technology Consultant across multiple companies and projects, holds several US patents, certified Project Manager and Scrum Master.