Prioritising those side-projects you started

Prolific project starter? Yeah, me too. Lots started, hardly any finished. How do you prioritise which side-projects to work on?

Here are some options for picking from unfinished projects.

By potential

Pick the project that has the greatest chance of success.

If you started a project from a random idea but didn’t give any thought to who the audience is, what problem it might solve or opportunity it might create, or how to maintain the project, then it might not have a high chance of success. But if you have a project that has the potential to be successful, perhaps because its similar to other projects you’ve done or because it follows a proven approach, then pick that one to work on.

By need and impact

Pick the project that solves a problem for you or someone else.

Comparing projects by which is going to have the most impact and/or the least effort might help you pick which projects to prioritise. Projects that might help other people, teach them useful things, help them connect with others, etc., could be prioritised over more whimsical projects that are just fun things to do.

By excitement

Pick the project that interests you the most.

If an idea excites you it’s probably have more motivation to work on it (and maybe even finish it). Follow your heart.

By random selection

Pick a project by rolling a dice

Avoid choosing by letting random selection do the work. If all or your projects are equal to you and it doesn’t really matter which you work on, you might as well just pick any.

By divination

Pick the project that you’ve seen a sign for.

Did someone mention something on Twitter that relates to a project you started? Maybe it’s a sign that you should get back to work on that project (some people call this market validation).

By most finished

Pick the project that is closest to being finished.

Work on the project that is closest to being finished, even if it isn’t the most exciting or has the most potential, because finishing might teach you something and feel good.

Let them go

You don’t have to finish any of them.

It is completely ok to start something because you’re interested in it, and not finish it. Leave all those unfinished projects and move onto something else.

But if you just keep starting more projects, it doesn’t matter how you prioritise them, you’ll never finish them all. So, maybe you need to think about why you start and not finish?

More ideas than time

If you have more ideas than you have time to work on projects, accept it and share those ideas with others so they can either pick up the project or rework the idea (there’s another idea for a project).

No end in sight

Maybe part of the problem is that you don’t see an end point for the project. Thinking of starting a newsletter? Do you really want to have to write something of high enough quality to send to your subscribers every week? Want to build a website? Do you really want to be maintaining it and adding content for the next ten years. Perhaps not wanting to maintain it stops you from shipping it.

Starting is fun

Maybe it’s the starting of projects that is the fun bit. The creative exploration and discovery of starting something new is what you enjoy. If that’s the case, then the measure of success for you isn’t finishing.

Risk assessment by certainty of cost and value

Risk assessment by certainty of cost and value

When assessing the risks of a new piece of work the questions should be around how certain are we about the cost and value of the work. The more certain we are about the cost of a piece of work and the value of the outcomes, the lower risk of the work. This leads to prioritising more certain work over less certain, and making more uncertain work less uncertain.

Certainty and uncertainty in value and duration

John Cutler tweeted about how he approaches forecasting with a team, and shared a Google Doc explaining the method.

Certainty and uncertainty in value and duration

One the second page was this:

Certainty and uncertainty in value and duration

This is important. It made me realise that initiatives can / should be considered / assesses / prioritised / forecasted on how certain or uncertain the value they will deliver is, and how certain or uncertain the duration is. Initiatives of unknown duration and unknown value are high risk compared to those of known value and known duration.

So, we need to have a reliable method for forecasting cycle time (not estimating effort time) to arrive at a known duration, and for establishing value (including cost of delay) as a known quantity.

Making these method of prioritisation explicit, reliable and robust is vital for across the organisation (not just within the digital department or within the scrum team) in order to be part of the mind shift towards delivering value continuously.

Prioritising parking spaces

In an office with more people than parking spaces, we needed a fair way of choosing who should get one.

There are various ways we could have done but the best solution was priority based on length of service, so the longer you’ve worked at the office the higher up the list you go.

There are two reasons this is such a good solution:

  1. Length of service is a fact, and choosing who gets a parking space based on fact rather than opinion has clarity and transparency, and is easy to understand. And it turns parking into a benefit of long service.
  2. It means the older team members who are more in need of a parking space get one without getting into uncomfortable discussions about health, medical conditions, or who is most in need.

Even everyday things like allocating parking spaces require a method of prioritisation.

Finding the right way to prioritise is vital. Using facts is great. Making it clear and easy to understand for the people involved is important. Gaining additional benefits as a result of the method is a good thing to achieve too.