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”.



#Strategy #Innovation Games – Recap

In my last post I described some customized Innovation games I was going to try in a Strategy Meeting. So I guess the obvious questions is how the games worked?


The games were met with a good level of skepticism and optimism. The group was about 20 people very familiar with different types of Silent Brainstorming. So they were not new to the method or process. They was a lot of feedback and ideas generated and at the end of the day we generated the initial problem statements that the session was intended to generate.

Overall, I’d give the session a B+.

Whole Product Game – The game was a great, repeat great, ice-breaker. It really worked well as an introduction exercise to get everyone thinking about what the company is and what the clients expect from the company. I would definitely use it again. Solid B.

Company Report Card Game -Probably the best game. People really liked the metaphor about being able to grade areas in addition to stating what was working well and what could be improved upon. There was some discussion on whether we needed guidelines for the letter grades. At the end, I think I am comfortable that we don’t need guidelines because it isn’t the absolute grades that matter. Rather, it is the relative grades of each area that are important. By looking at these relative grades, it becomes quite apparent what areas people think are the highest priority. I also created a plus/minus score for each area. (Good old Canadian hockey influence) The plus/minus just tracked the votes on positive items minus the votes on items needing improvement. Another data point that indicates where people believe there is a problem. The relative grades and the plus/minus scores were very consistent. Solid A.

20/20 Game – We adapted quickly and did not do this game as we were running out of time. I’d still like to try this game and maybe the next time we can see about the feedback we can gather using this game. No Grade.

So overall, I feel it was a very good session and I looking forward to more chances to play games at work.

#Strategy #Innovation Games

I don’t know when I have been more excited to be facilitating two sessions in one week. The reason is that both sessions are using types of Innovation Games. Now both sessions are using some unique customizations of Innovation Games and I am very interested in seeing the results. The meetings are drastically different. One is a Strategy meeting and the other is a Rapid Discovery Meeting.

Strategy Meeting

In the Strategy meeting, we are using three different and customized Innovation Games. We were going to take a somewhat traditional approach to this Strategy session until we sat down and thought about the process we should use to present current state. The question was then asked about whether we should present on current state, or let the group tell us what the current state is from their perspective. We loved the idea. Instead of he traditional approach of presenting the opinion of what current state is, why not get the team to create the current state through Silent Brainstorming. We were assuming that everyone would agree as to what the current state is.

So the three games I am proposing to get us to review current state and start to think about Strategy are:

Whole Product Game – To get us to start thinking about current state, we are going to use a slightly altered version of the Whole Product Game. It will be changed to solicit input on the entire company rather than a product. I believe this game will provide some interesting insight as to what people view as the company’s differentiators.

Company Report Card Game – I based this game based upon the ‘Grade a Feature’ Exercise. I believe the grading metaphor is something that we all can relate to and can allow for excellent insights. Instead of grading features, I have customized the game so that we will be grading the company according to the following categories:

  • Locating Opportunities (Sales)
  • Satisfying Opportunities (Offerings and Products)
  • Delivery Opportunities (Delivery and Manufacturing)

For each category a person will do the following on a stickie:

  • Provide one overall grade per category on how they think the company is doing in that category – denoted by circling it
  • Provide an item or items which they feel the company is doing well in that category – denoted by a plus sign in a circle
  • Provide an item or items which the company needs to improve to be able move up to the next higher grade – denoted by a minus sign in a circle

20/20 Game – I based this game on the 20/20 game contained in Luke Hohmann’s excellent Innovation Games book. There is also an excellent website available with online games. (although the 20/20 game is not one of the online games) This game will be based upon the results of the Company Report Card Game and each person will be asked to asked if the company is better or worse for each of the items that came out of the Company Report Card Game as compared to two years ago. This will be done by using stickers for voting. Each person will get 5 green stickers for voting for the items the company has improved and 5 red stickers for voting for items the company has  regressed on.

I’m very excited to gather the groups ideas and also for the ability to capture trends.

I’ll save the Rapid Discovery Innovation games I will be using for my next post…