Example of the filled-in prioritization 'tray'

Running a Cross-Team Initiatives Prioritization Brainstorm

Late in 2022, I was looking to get alignment on cross-team initiatives we’d work on in 2023 across multiple teams. I wanted input from a certain group of engineering managers and product managers on:

  • Which initiatives we wanted to go after
  • What our order of priority was

Whenever possible, getting input from everyone involved leads to far better results from both a buy-in perspective and from a two (or more) heads-are-better-than-one perspective than just making the decision yourself in a vacuum. You can’t always make decisions by committee, but you can get input that way. In this case, I was able to both get consensus and the input ended up changing my mind so that I was aligned with the group on the priorities.

This post is about how I set up the brainstorm.

Thanks to a trial run and input from a few team members, here’s what I set up; it worked very well, and received positive feedback. Even now, 5 months later, we continue to revisit the board to look at what’s up next or how things have changed based on our new understanding of certain initiatives. We’ve tweaked the priorities a bit – in one case, an initiative had more phases than we realized, for example – but overall, we’ve kept to the prioritization we chose back in December, so it’s been a very useful piece to reference.

I could have done a traditional sticky-note brainstorm, or perhaps a ‘how-might-we’ style brainstorm. But I wanted this to be more directed; we already had a lot of likely candidates for the initiatives, so there was no need to start from scratch.

I took out anything company-specific so that I could share screenshots from the board here.

Here’s the setup:

  1. I had an introduction with goals and reminders of things to think about such as our themes and recent trends.
  2. I came up with the list of cross-team features, and mapped out which teams would likely be involved. I also created high-level user stories, with the help of some other team members, in the format of “As a user, I want to be able to do x so that y”.
    1. Initially, the features were all gray. As we dragged them into the prioritization line, I made them white just to track which ones we’d already prioritized.
  3. Prioritization ‘tray’. A way to be able to drag and drop the features into order. The nice thing about this was that it was really easy during discussion to reorder them back and forth as we chatted about them. We actually decided one item wasn’t even valid for this group, but was important for each team individually, so it ended up below the tray with a note.

The overall picture:

The intro:

Feature list and color coding indicating teams. We walked through these one-by-one, dragging them down into the prioritization ‘tray’ in the appropriate spot as the group discussed them.

Initial empty “tray” for prioritization and later filled “tray” for prioritized features:

Once items were in the tray, we could reorganize them as we talked, or pull them back out again.

Notably, we did not try to do any project management while we prioritized, although we did discuss which projects could overlap. For example, you can see that Feature 6 in the above picture has different teams than any of the other features, so it’s possible it could happen simultaneously to some of the work.

The next time you have to do a cross-team prioritization brainstorm, consider giving something like this a try and let me know how it goes.

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