Friday, December 5, 2014

Moving from belief to action - implementing WSJF for value based prioritisation in SAFe (Part 2)

In my last post, I described the simulation I use to teach Cost of Delay (CoD) and Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF).  This often provides the impetus to begin, and one of the beauties of the model is that you can adopt it before you’ve even begun to change delivery method.  Beginning your change with a shared definition of value and a rich supporting discussion is a great launch point!

The first step is to make sure you know your vision and overarching strategy.  This need has usually emerged in the debrief on the simulation.  One group will mention how they paused with 10 minutes to go to say “what kind of city are we really building here?”  Every other group will look around and say “aaah, if only we’d started there!”.   Pulling it back to SAFe terminology, we are looking at the workshop(s) to define the strategic themes and portfolio vision.

With a sound strategic vision in place, we look next at adapting the model to the organisational context.  Three key questions need to be answered:

  • Do we use Dean’s components for CoD?
  • Do we weight the components equally or otherwise?
  • What specific factors contribute to each component?

The official SAFe formula is:
Cost of Delay = User/Business Value + Timing Criticality + Risk Reduction/Opportunity Enablement
Typical variations I have seen include:

  • Separation of “Business Value” and “Customer Value”
  • Separation of “Risk Reduction” and “Opportunity Enablement”
  • Introduction of a component for “Alignment to Strategy”
  • Weighting Business Value more highly than the other components.

In practice, I prefer to defer the weighting question.  Revisiting it once you have scored a set of options and gained a feel for how you are scaling each component seems to land you in a better position.

Another key theme that always emerges in the simulation debrief is the importance of getting to a shared understanding of ‘what contributes to’ business value, timing and opportunity/risk reduction.  Groups will discuss how alignment around scoring became easier as they aligned around the definition of value.  They’ll also regularly highlight the fact that once they got to opportunity/risk reduction they realised they had been ‘double-counting’ it in earlier components.

Leveraging this insight, my next workshop after the strategy is defined beings with identifying the contributing factors.  This is fairly easily facilitated with flip-charts and post-it’s, and typically takes 60-90 minutes.  Again, it becomes an alignment tool as it enables a great discussion on what constitutes value and opens up shared understanding among the group.  Below is a (slightly desensitised) example of the definition from a group I recently helped develop a roadmap using WSJF.

By this point you have an overarching strategy, a model people understand how to use, and you’ve filled in and clarified the intent in using it.

The next step is to take your current list of opportunities and get them estimated.  Most groups I work with want to retain the index card/planning poker approach.  This is handy, because every good coach knows how to help people navigate a good planning poker estimation session.  I will also often separate the estimation to one workshop per contributing lever.  The conversation is intense, and with a decent size backlog (25-30 items) allowing a couple of hours per component works well.  It also allows time for homework and clarifications.  We regularly park a couple of items for people to go away and assemble supporting data.  We conclude the series by pulling all the calculated results together and reviewing/adjusting the result.  Once your first list is prioritised, you just need a cadenced working group to evaluate new items or adjust previous evaluations as new information emerges or timing considerations change.

My closing hint is to remember not to be a slave to the numbers.  There are often good reasons to adjust the final ordering.  And naturally you want to put a kaizen approach in place to start to measure realised benefits and use that feedback to improve your initial value estimation discussions.

The true value is not in calculating WSJF to 2 decimal points.  It lies in having a tool that facilitates objective conversations that assists a group of execs or product managers in aligning around a common understanding of value for the organisation.  In doing so, it’s amazing how much they start to understand about each other.


  1. Hi Mark, I have been using the SAFe City simulation a couple of times and it works REALLY well. Thank you very much,
    Chris Verlinden

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