In our last blog post we spoke about how the common understanding of Horizon Planning is broken. So, if the model is broken, how do we fix it?

Visibility Planning

Unlike Horizon Planning where projects are prioritized based on “level of innovation” and “time to ROI”, Visibility Planning is based on evidence. In other words, we estimate the likelihood of achieving desired outcomes and when, based on market data and insights. We measure progress toward desired outcomes, which determines the time horizon.

Further, this allows an organization to put any initiative on the map whether or not it qualifies as “innovation.” Your innovation team may very well be qualified to work on the ideas with the least amount of evidence, but NOT because they’re supposed to do “breakthrough” innovation (whatever that means). Rather, they’re experts at de-risking initiatives by reducing uncertainty.

This method ensures resources are allocated to those that close the gaps toward achieving your group’s objectives.

When you’re trying to achieve an aggressive objective, you’ll likely face a bit of uncertainty. But also, objectives for next year and the year after will be even more aggressive, so you need to start figuring that out now, too! You need to work differently when dealing with this uncertainty.

After all, if you knew the answers you’d already be happily executing your way to bonus-ville.

Exploration makes you more efficient despite the fear of doing things differently. Most leaders feel like they don’t have time for exploration work, but you do. We suggest putting exploration in the backlog or directly on the calendar.

Moves The Needle’s Project Prioritization board is a 2×2 poster that helps you visualize where to invest resources based on impact and evidence. It helps you determine where you need exploration work in order to optimize outcomes.

How to use Project Prioritization

(this is best as a team exercise or better, several teams)

First, we presume you understand what your objectives are and that they are quantified. In other words, numbers:

  • grow revenues x%
  • increase customer delight y%
  • improve employee happiness z%
  • decrease costs xx%
  • improve time to market yy%

These can apply to this fiscal year or also include future years. These numbers should be known and shared from the C-suite, or based on relevant contributions from each level below the C-suite: e.g., business unit, product line, product, front-end UI. (Are your teams organized this way? If yes or no, we’d love to chat with you so we can learn more.)

Second, we presume you’ve done some amount of analysis that establishes the gap between the objectives and where you are today. (We need to improve user engagement x% or incrase market share y% in order to hit our numbers.)

Third, the tool. If you haven’t downloaded the project prioritization tool yet, you can do so HERE.

As a group or team, document all projects you have going on and those in the pipeline. One project per sticky note. Each note should describe how this project, in a quantifiable way (even if it’s a guess), contributes to closing the gap for specific objectives.
(Optional: brainstorm new ideas to tackle the gaps. Again, one per sticky note.)

Fourth, each team, in their own space, confers to place the sticky notes on the Project Prioritization board. Place the notes based on expected impact on the vertical axis and the confidence that you have in the initiative based on evidence. (Evidence isn’t based on 10 year old experience, googling the size of the iPhone market, or strong conviction. Bring market-based data.

Confidence means the level of understanding stakeholder (e.g., customer) needs, what needs to be provided, and level of effort required to provide initial value (e.g., MVP).

Analyzing the Results

When looking at the results of the exercise, two distinct outcomes are useful:

1) Are the teams aligned? How close are they in estimating impact and evidence? Egregious non-alignment should be fixed. Also, how can communication be improved to maintain alignment? Tip: Choose one member of each team to find a solution to the communication dilemma.

2) High impact, high evidence (top right quadrant) should already be where your resources are concentrated. The next level, however, is rarely considered. High impact, low evidence (upper left quadrant) is opportunity land! Resources should be invested to gather more evidence. A team should be assigned a mission to generate evidence within 90 days. If they can’t, the project is killed. If they can, they are given another set of milestones to achieve. This method ensures resources are allocated to those that close the gaps toward achieving your group’s objectives.

More to come on the other quadrants soon.

We’d love to hear from you. Are you utilizing anything similar in your business?