Spend $100 to Prioritize Your Opportunities

The key to shipping value is making sure your users, value what you ship.  On the Microsoft patterns & practices team, we used a technique we called "Spend $100."  This was a highly effective way to prioritize our backlog and bubble up the most valuable things to do. 

It helped answer the question, "What's the next best thing to do?"

Implementation varied, but the main idea was this:  Give a customer $100 of make believe money.  Ask them to spend it on the things they value most in our backlog of opportunities.  When we did this across customers, we could then easily see which themes and things customers value more than others.

A variation off of this, but the same idea, is to have a customer spend 100 story points.  The way this works is you assign story points to specific user stories.  Customers can then spend their story points on the user stories they value most.  Here is an example that explains how this approach was used to help prioritize user stories for Microsoft Enterprise Library.

The beauty of this "Spend 100 dollars" approach is that it helps address several things:

  • How to make sure you're shipping the next best thing
  • How to ensure that your users value what you ship
  • How to slice your backlog down into actionable size
  • How to stay customer-connected while planning your product
  • How to make it easy for your customers to have a voice in shaping the product
  • How to use data-driven decisions to prioritize in a simple way
  • How to quickly test  your ideas for potential value with real customer feedback
  • How to fail fast and quickly change direction if the value isn't there
  • How to identify demand and justify appropriate investment with real user data

While it sounds simple, and the idea is, there are things to think about.  For example, how do you survey the right users?  How do you make sure you don't just cater to the squeaky wheels?  How do you organize your user stories in a useful way to make it easy to vote effectively?

It's worth working through these issues.  If you can successfully drive customer value, your value as a Product Manager or Program Manager or Developer, etc. quickly goes up, as well as your personal brand and credibility.   You will become a high value, shipping machine. 

This is a proven practice that's served many people well.  You just have to give it a shot.

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