Project Prioritization in a Software Startup

Oh so many articles on this! So many methodologies. What more can be said? Oh be wise…

Not for the faint of heart, prioritizing the efforts of your development team is THE KEY for nailing market timing and profitability in general. Add on to that the costs of designers, product managers, and the folks doing research weeks or even months before the first line of code is written! To say nothing of the alignment between departments needing certain changes and the ramp-up time necessary to get everyone on board and in sync! You know the drill. I’ll stop here and drop the one piece of advice I really have. Nope. I’ve got three:

Software is built by people, prioritized by people, and it’s sent out to people in an effort to provide some value for them. As much as we want to systematize and automate, the bottom line is that we need solutions that work for people. And this is particularly true in young companies that can’t afford the overhead of complex processes.

1. The prioritization you do has to work for your people: your employees, your management, and your customers. If it isn’t working, then you need to change it. Full stop.

I reject the notion that high-level projects can be scoped and prioritized against each other and then sequenced and thrown on a gantt chart. Haha! No they totally can. But remember the engineer’s triangle ensures no plan survives contact with the enemy (in this case reality). In addition to prioritizing your projects at a high level, you need to prioritize each project’s deliverables.

2. Prioritize project deliverables separately from the projects themselves. You must understand that a “should-have” on project #1 is not more important than a “must-have” on project #2.

It is like 3D chess, weighing the benefits of unrelated functionality from different quadrants of your product. And oh, so easy to suck at. Even once you’ve determined the perfect course of action, and everyone’s bought into it, you can still lose by allowing people to forget what was decided!

3. Prioritization must be evangelized or it will be forgotten. It is easy to think of new ideas and our ability to conceive new work will always outpace our ability to achieve it. Make sure everyone stays on the same page, especially when changes are needed.

For a quick review of the top prioritization methods, see Folding Burritos. This is way I say “good luck” and walk out of the room.