A couple weeks ago I did some work in Chicago with Robb Pieper, and we decided to try grabbing dinner at Au Cheval, a popular burger joint. I say try because Au Cheval can have wait times longer than three hours due to being declared as having the best burger in America. We were hungry and had other work to do, so we obviously didn’t want to wait three hours to get food. We figured that if we got to the restaurant and found out that the wait time was too long, we could just grab food from somewhere else.
When we arrived, there was a line coming out of the small, crowded building. People were waiting on a bench outside. The likelihood of getting seated quickly didn’t look good. We got in line anyways, and within a few minutes Robb was able to talk to a waitress and find out that the wait to be seated was about an hour and a half. Fortunately, two spots at the bar had just opened up, and we were able to leapfrog the line.
So what do burgers in Chicago have anything to do with the transparency of priorities?
If Robb and I had found out that we needed to wait more than an hour to get food at Au Cheval, it would have affected our decision to eat there. If the waitress had told us it would take an hour to get seated, but it had actually taken two hours, we would have been beyond hangry. If Au Cheval would not have had any idea how long it would have taken for us to get seated, we would have just left. But it turned out that there was less demand for the seats at the bar than tables, so we got seated right away and started eating delicious hamburgers within thirty minutes.
This same principle applies to priorities. Customers, whether they are internal or external to your organization, cannot make informed decisions if they do not know where their requests sit on your backlog. If customer requests go into a wormhole and they magically come out sometime in the future (or never), customers will have no ability to make decisions, like deciding whether they should wait on your services, do it themselves, or outsource the request to someone else.
Not giving customers visibility into priorities can cause many problems. More passive (and sneaky) customers will often solve the problem themselves. At this point, you might be saying, “Great! That means less problems for my team to solve,” but it actually leads to shadow IT, which is typically considered a bad thing.
In the absence of transparent priorities, more aggressive customers resort to yelling or doing whatever they have to in order to ensure their work items are top priority. If this starts happening, it means the organization is essentially being driven by angry, emotional customers. I don’t think I need to explain why that’s a bad thing.
The solution to making priorities transparent lies within how you structure priorities within your organization. However, there are lots of techniques for prioritization in an agile environment, and there are many factors that determine which techniques might work in certain situations. That discussion is beyond the scope of this blog post, although I will write about it soon.
And by the way, the burgers at Au Cheval were amazing. If you ever go there, order the bacon with your burger. You will not be disappointed.