Planning and prioritisation predicament


A rather large percentage of the limited horsepower in my noggin these days is consumed with helping redesign a DDaT wide planning and prioritisation process. So this is some classic thinking out loud – do shout if you have ideas, insights or sympathy.

So like Q-Tip asked – what’s the scenario?

Multiple portfolios. Each portfolio has a set of products/services and funding is relatively fixed. They also have a nominally fixed head-count so there is a ceiling as to how much they can take on.

A number of what I call VIP teams exist (very important products). They are going to continue, come what may – the only change is the scale of the commitment from ‘keep the lights on’ to ‘continuous improvements’ depending on thinking at the time.

Not all portfolios are created equally – some have a higher concentration of these VIPs and different levels of investment depending on the success (and timing) of business cases.

There are not enough of all the right skills to go around – for anyone – and there is no quick way to change this. This means a culture of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ has emerged.

Planning is built around a quarterly OKR cycle which creates a cloud of FUD that slows teams down.

It is the real world so priorities change. Policies emerge and Ministers decide. Whatever we do needs to be nimble enough to respond to change but provide enough long term clarity that we can plan properly and provide some stability.

Like Rakim I’m thinking of a master plan

As ever my instincts are to try and do something lightweight that leans heavily into trusting the teams – but I know it needs to provide reassurance to multiple audiences.

At the moment I’ve got some initial thoughts → 

Solidify the position of the VIP teams. Define (and expand) their roles. Staff them first. Cascade down from there.

Break out of the QxQ OKR cadence – I really like this approach Google embraced;

cut out quarterly OKRs altogether, choosing to focus solely on annual OKRs with quarterly progress reports.

..and the reason given…because Google were no longer in ‘start-up’ mode. They aren’t alone 😂

This is related to something else I’d like to investigate. Annual OKRs should be supported with roadmaps on as long a timeline as makes sense. Acknowledging that roadmaps are not a plan and that fidelity lowers considerably the further you get from day one – and that they are a living document – they provide an anchor for discussions and help build trust. 

I’m also in favour of pushing the planning process down as far as possible – in this case probably to portfolios working with teams – but this only works if they understand the bigger picture. We need to be clear about what are the strategic priorities – and why! This needs to be constant and consistent – it only emerging around the time teams are formally planning is too late. 

At this level I don’t think it matters what process is used to plan and prioritise – but whatever the process is it has to follow consistent principles. Something like; 

  • Transparency – show your working out
  • Consistency – or fairness? 
  • Auditable – write stuff down/capture decisions (see transparency)
  • Proportionate – the right amount of governance at the right place
  • No surprises

‘No surprises’ probably needs the most explaining – communications needs to up/down and side/side at a much greater cadence. Nobody should be learning things for the first time when plans are being presented – neither leadership nor teams.

We need a totally different way to support staffing of teams – if the goal is to create sustainable, stable high performing teams but still support our people with the kinds of development opportunities they want/need this needs to be given the attention it deserves (and it is).

Okay that is enough for now – writing this down has cleared a bit of clutter from my head and helped me structure some of my thoughts. Let’s see if that helps!


One response to “Planning and prioritisation predicament”

  1. Questions that spring to mind:
    1. Are all the VIP mapped into an enterprise value chain, showing the contributions they each make to the system overall?
    2. Is there a Capability model that maps all the capabilities the enterprise must have in place to achieve the vision and goals?
    3. Have you done a stocktake of both of those showing the actual current state in order to right-size the resourcing for the portfolio?
    4. Has there been a validation on everything in flight or ready in the wings, against what it will contribute?
    5. Are you split across BAU change, Compliance-centered change, innovation Change etc?

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