Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The HiPPO vs. The Dude - The Eternal Prioritization Battle

If you didn't already know, I'm a huge fan of David Hussman's "Dude's Law", which states that "Value = Why? / How?". I've used this concept both in coaching in general (as it was intended), as well as a fun and easy way to execute Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) prioritization.

A universal obstacle to value-driven prioritization is the HiPPO - the Highest Paid Person's Opinion. I still encounter this in organizations that have been on their Agile journey for over a year. It's painful for me to hear them explain the difficulties they have with changing priorities while being held accountable for the successful delivery of original commitments. Yet, when I recommend they quantify their value somehow, they explain that it can't be done. Priorities are set by people that have much more subject matter expertise and are "above my pay-band". They have to obey the HiPPO.

How does one respond to the HiPPO? With the immortal words of The Dude, of course!

"Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, uh, your opinion, man."

Opinions are important, but we want everyone's opinion and we want to put those opinions in context of all the available options! When a conversation framework is used to turn opinions into a quantitative estimate that can drive consistent and objective prioritization of work, it becomes easy to justify a change in plans. When teams track how much value they delivered relative to what was committed to (instead of static features or objectives) then the reluctance to take on valuable, unplanned work goes away; even more importantly, the team is armed with the data to push-back against unplanned work that really isn't as valuable as the HiPPO made it seem!

The HiPPO vs. The Dude

Dude's Law isn't the only way to prioritize work. There are other techniques you may decide to use, just know that if you stick with the HiPPO you run the risk of seriously damaging team morale and momentum. The HiPPO destroys, the Dude abides.

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