A website is never done. Like a garden, a website needs constant attention and care in order to flourish. Content updates, bug fixes and security patches are essential website maintenance jobs that must be done for the website to survive, in the same way as your garden plants need watering in order to grow. In addition to the basic maintenance, there are also constant opportunities for improvement.
University of Leeds is an ultra-large organisation with more than 1,000 websites and the backlog of improvements for university web presence contains hundreds of items. When the list is so long, it’s easy to see that they are not all equal. For example, redesigning a legacy website so that it follows new design guidelines and complies with web accessibility regulations is a large and time-consuming task involving multiple teams and a range of skills. Software upgrades are different, they are technically complex but only require experienced developers and testers to get the job done. Updating product fees is an example of a simple, straightforward, well-documented process. All these tasks are important, all of them need to be done, but prioritisation is hard because it’s difficult to compare them to each other.
To make prioritisation easier, it is helpful to categorise long lists of items into groups, either by target audience (for example: students, researchers, industry), by project (student recruitment, sport, outreach), or by skills required to complete them (development, design, copywriting). Several smaller lists are easier to work with than one very long list.
One reason why prioritisation can be hard is that stakeholders see and approach the same features differently. Each stakeholder has their own perspective and agenda. However prioritising improvements for the whole organisation means that stakeholders need to focus on the overall strategic goals, and prioritisation frameworks provide good structure to do just that.
Three most commonly used prioritisation frameworks are Eisenhower matrix, MoSCoW and RICE.
1. Eisenhower matrix is best visualised as four quadrants with tasks that are:
- Urgent and important: do it.
- Urgent and not important: delegate it.
- Not urgent and important: delay it.
- Not urgent and not important: delete it.
The goal of this process is to challenge all the requests in the first, urgent and important category and move as many of them as possible to the other three. This technique works best when there is a bad habit of firefighting all the requests without validating the need.
2. MoSCoW stands for:
- Must have
- Should have
- Could have
- Would have (given unlimited time and resources)
MoSCoW method is simple and is an effective way of prioritising long lists of items quickly. It works well when stakeholders are already mostly in agreement but still need an effective way of recording the decisions.
3. RICE stands for: Reach, Impact, Confidence and Effort. This method relies on data and has more depth to it than MoSCoW, but it is also more time-consuming.
Requests that come in the form of: ‘Is it possible to deliver XYZ?’ can be particularly tricky to prioritise correctly. These often come from senior management or HiPPOs (HiPPO stands for highly paid person’s opinion) and suggest that the answer to the request should be as simple as a yes or no. Within this question there is a hidden assumption that neither prioritisation nor further discussion is necessary. If XYZ can be done, that’s arguably all that matters.
Don’t fall for the implied urgency and simplicity of this request. Your best bet is to provide a quick immediate response to confirm that you’re gathering information and you will provide a full response shortly. This buys you time to consider the proposed idea carefully, in more depth. Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself, in order to turn your attention away from the HiPPO pressure and in the direction of a balanced evaluation.
- Will this improvement enhance user experience?
- Does it fit into the overall business strategy?
- Is it time sensitive due to market conditions or industry events?
- How many users will benefit from it?
- Will it still be valuable in 3 years?
- What’s a rough estimate of the effort required?
- What’s a rough estimate of the business value?
- Is there money available to fund the development, as well as future maintenance?
- Do we have skills to do it well?
No requests should go to the front of the queue unchallenged, and no requests should be assigned high priority without justification.
Prioritising workload helps to focus on the right activities, be more productive, and say no to distractions. Clear prioritisation process reduces stress, improves motivation and delivers business value. Organisations use frameworks such as Eisenhower matrix, MoSCoW and RICE to conduct efficient high level prioritisation, however more in-depth discussions rely on data and insights that may take time to gather.
Finally, priorities can and do change. Ability to respond to changes in the market and to learn from mistakes is essential. However if the prioritisation process and criteria are clear, then prioritising improvements frequently becomes an easy, well-practiced habit.