How to strategically prioritize user stories #Agile

One of the reasons I love to read books on Agile is because of the wealth of great ideas out there. It seems like every book I read allows me to discover one or two news ideas. The book I am currently reading is Ken Collier’s “Agile Analytics”. While reading this book I was introduced to the idea of prioritizing project requirements using the Purpose Alignment Model. (The model was proposed by Pixton et al in the 2009 book “Stand Back and Deliver”) Although the principle of getting the clients to prioritize your project requirements doesn’t change, the method does provide a structure and context that can inject new insights into the prioritization process.

Purpose Alignment Model

The Purpose Alignment Model proposes that you separate your project requirements into 4 categories based upon their strategic importance to the business. The categories proposed are:

Business Differentiating Activities – These are project requirements that support activities that are both marketing-differentiating AND mission-critical. These are strategic activities that will add to the growth of the company. These activities are usually aligned with new opportunities. The company risks the loss of growth if these activities are not done.

Business Parity Activities – These are project requirements that support activities that are mission-critical but not market differentiating. These are operational activities that will allow the company to maintain their current position in the market. The company risks losing their position in the market if these activities are not done.

Partnering Activities – These are project requirements that support activities that are not mission-critical but are market-differentiating.  These are typically partnering opportunities in the market to create new opportunity and growth. Unlike the Business Differentiating activities, this activity is looking to find a partner to share the cost of this market-differentiating opportunity.

Who Cares Activities – These are the project requirements that support activities that are neither market-differentiating or mission critical.


I’m planning to use this structure on the next opportunity to prioritize User Stories in the backlog. I believe it will allow for interesting insights into where the development team is spending their efforts in each iteration. I also think the clients would find the information interesting. Especially if we are spending more than 50% of our time consistently on developing functionality to support “Who Cares Activities”.



Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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