Theme Screening

Last week in Agile training we learned about theme screening, theme scoring and relative weighting – tools to help the team decide how important new features were.

It reminded me of the decision matrix my husband and I built when we were debating whether to move to Charlotte, North Carolina or not. We were living in Silicon Valley where we moved after college and had lived for several years. Our best friends had moved out from the University of Utah ahead of us and we joined them. We (my husband and I) both had jobs with Ford Aerospace and the company was starting a division in Charlotte to apply a technology built at Ford Motor for finding flaws in windshields – to apply that technology to the textile industry. To find flaws in cloth.

Mike had been offered the job as Finance Manager working for the new company division’s General Manager. I was given the opportunity to work part time (as I had been doing since taking maternity leave) as software developer. There were only a handful of new employees. A start-up opportunity.

So we crafted our decision matrix.

  • Friends
  • Area (The south – humid and unknown; California – wonderful)
  • Work opportunity (would mean an immediate promotion for Mike)
  • Family (ours were all in Utah – NC was much further away)
  • Monetary (better salaries were being offered; particularly considering cost-of-living
  • Etc.

We weighted (added relative values) to the categories, evaluated them, and added up the results. The results: Don’t move to Charlotte. We sighed, looked at each other. Mike said “But what do you want to do?” I said, “I want to go and give it a try.” He said, “Me, too!”

And off we went. It was a great decision. We met great new friends. Saw an area of the country we never would have. Learned about the South. And our youngest daugher was born there.

All the tools for making decisions help – but in the end, also consider your “gut” reaction. In the end, how much do you want it?

If you REALLY want that feature that the decision matrix says is too big or has other constraints, rather than removing it from the list, a better alternative is to find a cheaper way to deliver the function that’s more streamlined. Maybe your development team’s approach is more “elegant” or “robust” than this feature requires. Maybe all the client wants is a simple button and the team was suggesting an entirely new feature.

An important part of the decision criteria is weighing the technical options. If you want the feature badly enough, there may be a way to get it that is more streamlined and still fits into the plan.

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3 thoughts on “Theme Screening

  1. Hi Jan–
    Excellent points. Often when our intuition or gut feel goes against what some fancy math shows, it means we’re missing things in the equation–e.g., perhaps a category called intangibles.

    I’ve had a handful of situations similar to yours where after I make a matrix for a personal decision (which car to buy, for example) the matrix didn’t give me the answer I’d learned I wanted. Well, the matrix still helped me make the decision. Before I did it I didn’t know I had a strong preference but once the matrix showed me the result I didn’t want, I knew which one I did.

    So the decision matrix can still be a tool we use for evaluating options; but we don’t want to slavishly follow the answer.

  2. Pingback: Tipps zur Priorisierung des Product Backlogs von Mike Cohn « Produktmanagement und Vermarktung von Internetanwendungen

  3. Pingback: Tips to Prioritize a Product Backlog From Mike Cohn « Product Owner for web applications

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