by Leon Rosenshein

What Are You Waiting For?

I’ve talked about the Eisenhower matrix before. Two orthogonal axes, importance, and urgency. It’s a good way to prioritize. The higher and further to the right, the higher the priority.

Another way to look at things is task priority, Leverage, Neutral, or Overhead. They all need to be done, but things with leverage are higher priority.

Or maybe you prefer the MoSCoW method. Must, Should, Could, and just as important, Won’t. That’s the priority order.

Three ways to prioritize. All you need to do is pick one, implement it, then reap the rewards, right? Well, that’s mostly right.

The thing that none of those schemes mention is that you have to not just to the work, you have to deliver the work. If you don’t deliver, then you haven’t added any value and you haven’t actually done the thing that you decided is most important.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Delivering is work. So, it’s got a priority. Depending on your exact situation, that might be a lot of work, or it might be just a small amount of work. You can’t forget about it though.

Which leads to some interesting conflicts. You’ve done the work for the top 3 priorities on your list. They got done at about the same time. You could release (deliver) an update, but you could also wait for the next thing to be ready. There would be more value in your delivery, but it’s going to be later. Which do you choose?

It depends. If you decide to wait, some say you’re letting a lower priority (lower value) thing hold your high value thing hostage. Others say that you’re delivering more value, so the delay is worth it. Either might be true.

What lets you determine if you’re being held hostage or delivering more value over time is an understanding of the cost of delivery. The more delivery costs, the longer it takes, the more you end up packing things into each delivery. Instead of paying the cost of delivery for each item, you amortize it over multiple items. So, the delivery cost per item is lower. Standard unit economics, right?

Maybe, but maybe not. It depends on your perspective. Sure, the cost to you, as the producer is lower, but that doesn’t mean the value to the user is higher. It completely ignores the difference in value of having something right now compared to having something else later. The longer you wait to deliver something that could add value, the harder it is to make up the user’s lost value from not having it in hand now.

To make the calculation even worse, since you’ve done a good job figuring out the priority and value of the things to work on, by definition, the thing you’re waiting for has less value than what you’ve already done. If the difference in value is large enough, your user will never make up the difference.

So rather than cram more and more things into a delivery, which ends up delaying user value, and can make delivery take even longer, make delivery cheaper and faster. So you can put fewer things in each delivery. And deliver sooner.

And remember, this applies at all levels of development. Add the highest value thing now. Deliver it. Add the next highest value thing. Deliver that. Repeat. Or to put it GeePaw Hill’s terms, take many more much smaller steps.