Won to End (1..N) Ranking

Or I can buy a new toothbrush in Newark

Our team had a breakthrough moment last week, we changed our MRD* into a prioritized (1 to N, no ties) list and immediately identified some artificial work grouping that would have jeopardized the whole release.  Within 5 minutes, we’d done more to rescue our release than the 4 weeks prior.

Working on a traditional MRD is packing to go on a vacation.  You’ve made great plans, you’ve read all the brochures, and you can visualize yourself on the sparkling white sand surrounded beach chair relaxing next to your partner under gently swaying palms. 

Paradise sounds great, but the cold fact of today is that you’re late for your flight and you have to pack everything into a single suit case. 

Remember the McCallister household in Home Alone?   They were so busy packing and rushing out that they left behind sweet defenseless Macaulay Culkin.  Treating an MRD like a suitcase makes you so focused on the little details and the deadlines that you and your team will likely miss the big picture.  And once you’ve started your team may not react to market changes because they’ve already packed their mental bags:  “honey, we can’t have dinner with the President tonight because you promised that we’d play tennis.”

Another frustration I have with MRDs is that they are classically adversarial.  “Why did you pack that?  If you’re bringing that yoga matt then I’ll need a polo helmet!”  The fault is not in the people, the very nature of the document creates antagonism because the document is considered a monolithic whole.

It does not have to be like this.

Creating product direction should be more like planning a road trip than preparing for a transoceanic flight.  We know where we want to go, the essential things we need and who’s in the car: that’s enough to get started.  We’ll discuss the roadmaps as we go so we can explore the interesting sites (“geysers, cool!”) and toss out the bone headed detritus (“infrared beachcombing metal detector?”) along the way.

It takes trust and discipline to free fall into this type of planning.

When my team ranked our traditional MRD items into a 1 to N list, the conversation immediately became more focused, birds began to sing, and we each lost 5 pounds.  Several things happened when we changed the list. 

First, we looked at the deliverable as a system, not just a collection of features.   “Yeah, mayo is not much good without the bread, keep those together”

Then we started talking about what the customer needed (not what we had to deliver).  “Rob, we know you like sweet hot banana peppers but those are really optional compared to slicing the bread.”

Finally, we found it much easier to compare items against each other (“yeah, the ham feature is more important than tofu move that higher” instead of “we can’t ship this product without both ham and tofu!”)

Once we had the list ranked, it was obvious to everyone which features were required for the release.   Our discussion focused on the top priorities and engineering was able to focus on the most import items first.

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