How to Prioritize Agile Work

How to prioritize Agile work
Joe Burroughs

Joe Burroughs

Many people are frustrated by uncertainty and complexity in their jobs. I use Agile principles to provide clear and simple strategies so that you can win at work!

How should Agile work be prioritized?

Obviously, delivering the maximum customer value is the goal, but how can Agile Leaders prioritize their portfolio of work to ensure the most valuable work is getting done first?

This is a great question! First of all Prioritization should come from the top and flow down through the work items. So setting priorities at the portfolio level makes sense. Note: this has nothing to do with setting due dates or other anti Agile practices. This prioritization merely stack ranks the big chunks of work based on value.

So, what makes one chunk of work a higher priority than another?

Companies should absolutely develop their own high-level criteria for prioritization but a solid place to start incorporates four factors:

  • Cost to build
  • Time to market
  • Development risk
  • Return on investment

Assigning a value for each of these at 33%, 66%, and 100% will provide a clear indication of value the organization will realize if the Feature or Product is released.

Here's an example

Let’s compare two products an insurance company might consider developing. We will take them through the prioritization process and review the results.

Pet Insurance

Pet Health Insurance

Allow new and existing customers to research, apply for, and manage  health insurance policies for their dog(s) and/or cat(s) via mobile, tablet, and desktop.

Note: This is a completely new product for the organization which will require net new processes and policy products. However, the payoff should be huge as people spend more on pets every year.

  • Cost to build: High – 33%
  • Time to market: High – 33%
  • Development Risk: Medium – 66%
  • Return on Investment: High – 100%

Prioritization Result Total: 58%


Scan VIN# for Instant Auto Insurance Quote

Allow new and existing customers to scan a vehicles VIN# via their mobile device to get a real time estimate on an auto insurance policy while shopping for cars and trucks.

Note: This is a new method of entering the VIN# within an existing mobile real-time quote product. It will leverage existing mobile photo/document upload processes. 

  • Cost to build: Low – 100%
  • Time to market: Low – 100%
  • Development Risk: Low – 100%
  • Return on Investment: Low – 33%

Prioritization Result Total: 83.3%

Given these two products, it might seem that the Pet Insurance product is a winner because it has such a large potential for return on investment, but when you look at all the factors combined you have a clear winner: The VIN# Scanning Feature.

This is why prioritizing is crucial to maximizing the value of the work we undertake.


Joe Burroughs

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2 thoughts on “How to Prioritize Agile Work”

    1. Jack,
      Absolutely, for Cost to Build, Time to Market, and Development Risk the scale looks like this:
      High = 33%
      Medium = 66%
      Low = 100%
      for Return on Investment, the scale is flipped to:
      High = 100%
      Medium = 66%
      Low = 33%
      from there you simply rate each category for the effort.
      In the Pet Insurance example, we get a total score of 58%, and for the VIN# Scanner example we end up with a total score of 83.3%.

      This method simply adds percentages to the typical T-Shirt sizing concept allowing for an objective prioritization percentage.

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