Celebrity Prioritisation

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This exercise was co-created as part of a collaboration day between myself and Paul Goddard

Timing: 15-30 minutes

Materials: (Optional) Pre-printed photographs of 10-15 celebrities. Try and get a range of celebrities including controversial (Lance Armstrong), old (Nelson Mandela), difficult (Stephen Hawking), young (Justin Bieber)

Instructions: Set the scene that there is a cruise-liner with a number of famous people on-board who are now in mortal danger as the boat has hit an iceberg and is sinking. We don’t know how long it will be until the boat has sunk but the good news is that we have a rescue boat and be heroes by rescuing them. The bad news is that our rescue boat is small and we can only rescue one person at a time.

The task is to, as a team, put the celebrities in the order in which you would rescue them. Set them a time limit of 10 minutes

Learning Points: 

  • Some teams will fail to agree on an order. In this case, everyone dies. Here the learning point is that, in agile, almost any decision is better than no decision
  • Teams will often agree on the top 3 or 4 and the bottom 3 or 4. It often isn’t worth arguing too much about priority 1 v priority 2 as there is a good chance we will do both.
  • Arguing about priorities 10-15 is also relatively pointless as the boat will probably have sunk by then anyway
  • While rescuing person 1, you can still be thinking about who person 2 will be (you don’t have to decide everything straight away
  • Once you have rescued person 1, you can get some feedback on your decision and potentially change your mind for who you rescue next
  • Most teams will decide on a set of criteria for how to decide on their order (women and children first or contribution to society etc) – agile projects need this understanding too (often captured in the project vision). Things become easier then
  • Prioritisation is subjective – there is no getting away from that

Variation: Instead of pre-printing the celebrities, ask each person to think of a famous person (that is still alive) and write their name on an index card

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