Value vs effort - a visual approach


A while ago I was looking at prioritisation of the backlog for a client. There was an issue with quantifying value and I was getting the sponsors to start thinking about it.

I had done this a number of times and it usually went like this. Me: "Please sequence the backlog in the order  you (the business sponsor usually) would do first." The first question is usually "is this one bigger than this one, because if it is we will put the smaller one first." 

That made me think of return on investment, after all that is what we are delivering. I was planning for a prioritisation session and wanted to visualise how I explain the trade off between value and effort. So I drew a chart (see picture), one for each channel web and voice. I could imagine using this chart for a quick assessment of a new channel perhaps comparing a Facebook page with a web re-design, if the graph is shallow, all the better; if steeper then perhaps develop later, if at all. Also I could see that you could plot individual backlog items on a visible chart or get the customer to put the backlog items on a large graph.

Great - I might use this technique going forward in order to help prioritise anything on the bottom right is a no brainer anything top left needs to be avoided.

Last thought. Some channels / features don't take a lot of effort but cost a lot. Perhaps the unit cost of developers is higher or there are other lifetime costs such as support, infrastructure etc. This is when I scribbled an extra axis on the chart - cost. So now you can look at a visual representation of a requirement and quickly compare all the factors visually. I'm sure there are things I could do with this idea, but the main benefit of this visualisation is to make the sponsors start looking at return on investment for every idea they have. Also if resource (effort) is constrained but not money (yes this does happen) then high cost, low effort is a better investment, it's a matter of opportunity cost; if you expend a large effort then you won't be able to spend that effort on other value items. Also if you move the effort to cost - getting in an extra developer to build an app then maybe this is something you could do.

Lastly if we chart all three axes for every thing in the backlog, starting from the first delivered at the point nearest 0, we can quickly see how much value we can produce for an amount of effort and cost. Visualisation techniques like this can help sponsors quantify value and make better investment decisions.

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