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How to Prioritize and Focus on Values in 4 Easy Steps

Take a look at the S*T*A*R* when you have to prioritize.


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Marty de Jonge

3 years ago | 4 min read

Prioritization, whether we like it or not, is something we have to deal with every day. Do I buy that iPhone, or do I spend the money on my vacation? In organizations, prioritizing is a daily business. Companies use prioritization methods such as MoSCoW, WSJF, RICE or the KANO-model. Excellent tools that can help to maximize value in a structured way.

That is also where the limitations of these methods come into play. They are just tools!
Depending on the situation, one or the other prioritization method is better, but the vision and creativity determine the real quality and delivered value.

The methods are just tools to help you reach the goal. They are not a goal on itself. To help organizations in this, Frank Smulders & Viola Brusse have developed the STAR mindset: Sustainable, Together, Accepted, Realistic.

In this article, I will take you towards a different mindset for prioritizing wishes and needs.
Out of practice experience, we see that the adoption of one of the methods is not the problem. Rather, how we use them in an Agile environment is the challenge.
To avoid anti-patterns, you should pay much more attention to the first value of the Agile Manifesto — Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools. This is where the STAR prioritization mindset comes in:

  • Sustainable
    Are our initiatives future proof and valuable for customers or users?
  • Together
    Create interaction for a shared understanding and insights.
  • Accepted
    Do we accept the outcome of the prioritization?
  • Realistic
    An item must be doable and achievable.

Sustainable

All too often, we see that short-term fixes are chosen over long-term solutions. You will recognize it in your day-to-day life. You or your customers are encountering a problem NOW, so a solution must be found immediately. If you succeed, you hand out high-fives to each other and celebrate that you got things back on track so quickly.

However, you may have killed the symptoms but not cured the cause. In the long term, this can backfire to you. The problem can occur again tomorrow and impact your customers again without you see it coming.

Next step: set priorities, do you choose to spend more time on a good quality solution or are you going for a quick fix? If you opt for the latter, fine! Your customers might thank and praise you for it. But when the storm is over, let’s make sure that you don’t forget the sustainable solution for the future.
It is this mindset that makes you successful in the long run and where you succeed to build trust from your customers and partners.

Together

We often see different anti-patterns in this type of gatherings:

  • Huge, almost endless meetings where every department in the organization needs to have a say in the decision. The effect is that decision-making is considerably delayed or the chosen solution is mediocre because it must be ‘acceptable’ for everyone
  • A collection of grey suits HiPPO’s (Highest Paid Persons Opinion) that are far from the daily work (and the client) and make decisions based on their own benefits instead of the greater good.

Before you use a tool or prioritization technique, think carefully about whom to invite that actually offers value in making the decision needed.

If you come into your next meeting where choices have to be made or priorities have to be set, try this:

Take a moment to have a good look around and ask yourself the following:
– Do we really have the right people at the table to set the priorities?
– Are people here because they are ‘expected’ to be present, or are these people here at the table based on the knowledge and value they add?
– Are all people in the room actively participating?

Then, for your next meeting, only invite the people who can add a real contribution regardless of their position of rank but solely based on the value they bring to the discussion.

Accepted

Setting priorities can be a scary business and very difficult to do right. If you say yes to one item, you automatically say no to something else. Only time will tell if that was the right choice.

Different tools as mentioned above can help you make choices only they are nothing more than that. Tools that offer you a structure.
The most important thing in making decisions however is the extent to which you as a group take responsibility for the decisions made.

If things go differently than expected, you should be there for each other instead of looking for a scapegoat. Jointly acknowledging that things turned out different than expected and based on what you’ve learned taking the next decision, will help you improve.

Create a safe environment where everyone stands for the chosen priority and accept responsibility for it. Then good decisiveness gets a chance. Agree to disagree if necessary but accept together.

Realistic

When we talk about realistic, there are two topics to challenge:

  1. Are you able to deliver what is needed? Do you have the competencies or can you develop them? It is easy to underestimate the challenge you have. Even if you already gained experience in the past, then still you will be surprised by an unexpected struggle. Optimistic as you are you think that this time everything will be in place.
  2. Do you really expect the benefits that are mentioned? Or when this great new product or service is introduced, will there be an impact on other parameters? What do you already know about possible market volumes or possible competitors? Make sure you are able to measure these benefits so you can adapt when needed.

With the STAR mindset, you are able to validate your way of prioritization independently of the method you use. Always check if your prioritization is STAR approved!

Do you want to take your performance to the next level beyond prioritizing?
Find out more!

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Marty de Jonge

As an agnostic change agent, I am constantly amazed at what happens in organizations and learn every day. Enthusiastic writer and always open for discussion.


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