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Collaborative value-based prioritisation - some perspectives on prioritisation in a flow-oriented context

It is a condition that our ambitions always exceed our capacity. Learn to live with it.

In any service-oriented organisation, whether these services are physical products, solutions, decisions, advice, or others, prioritising our limited time and resources is an essential part of our work.

This prioritisation can take place in many ways and has many expressions. We often see that it happens unconsciously, randomly, and invisibly. However, there is a great benefit in choosing more conscious and less invisible prioritisation mechanisms to increase the chances that limited resources are used for maximum value creation, and therefore, I will give some perspectives on prioritisation in a flow-oriented context.

You are not alone

In the first perspective, the assumption is that prioritising time and resources and choosing a prioritisation method is a professional matter for each individual employee and employee group and that this personal prioritisation effort can be based on information emanating from management about, e.g., new initiatives, new opportunities, and changed conditions.

Perhaps you also have a colleague who finds themselves in this state and, as a result, simply accepts that everyday life seems to consist of a kind of "whack-a-mole" state, where there is always more work than one can handle, and one can just hit the nearest tasks that come their way. Some obvious challenges here are that the assumption of visibility around the strategic direction is just an assumption: This assumption cannot, or only difficultly, be tested, and the expectation of personal prioritisation can quickly trigger the feeling of ever-changing priorities and an insurmountable task, a declining engagement, and therefore the implementation of prioritisation becomes random or inadequate.

So, what can other perspectives be? I list a few perspectives here that can provide steps towards more visibility and more options for action around the strategic, overall direction, a more common understanding of how this can be implemented in daily prioritisation, and a stronger commitment to the important tasks we each undertake in the effort to create value for our customers, clients, users, and citizens.

Let someone handle the difficult conversations about the alignment of ambitions

A frequently used approach is the use of "content responsible" individuals, e.g. product owners, who, on behalf of the customer and the organisation, take on the task of creating "enough consensus" and visibility around the strategic value of the individual products or services and the desired sequence in which the services are made available.

This results in visible and prioritised task lists that make it possible to engage in common conversations about what we cannot achieve. And if this is unacceptable, how can we reprioritise it to achieve better value creation with the available resources?


Conversations about what we should not achieve point to a counterintuitive practice of "subtraction," which many find counterintuitive.

It is easy to come up with new ideas and add them, but we rarely take the time to remove "the old," which often ends up competing with the new. Therefore, a perspective on prioritisation becomes to “subtract” before we can “add.” For example, read Leidy Klotz’ book: ”Subtract”.

Consider the costs of delay

A central perspective in flow-oriented contexts is the concept of "cost of delay" (CoD). When I was drafted into civil defence, we learned how to save as many lives as possible with few resources.

We had to learn to deal with injured individuals in major accidents or – in the worst case, war, where there is a lack of resources in the form of rescue workers, doctors, medicine, and other equipment. We had to prioritise into three groups. Group 1 is those who need help NOW. Their condition is critical, and a delay in treatment/help would be fatal. Another group is those who can wait, as their CoD is less critical. The third group is those who should not receive help, either because help is hopeless or too costly or because the injuries are so minor that they can take care of themselves.

This perspective is directly applicable in an organisational context: In which of the three groups do the seemingly good ideas we get fall? Will postponing an activity or a new service or offering be fatal, or will we miss significant opportunities? Can we create meaningful value with this opportunity or activity, even if we postpone it? And if so, for how long? And will it be too risky, too costly, or not value-creating enough to complete the task?


This conversation can advantageously be part of the responsibility of content-responsible individuals in the sequencing of a task list. The task is to create a trustworthy approach to understanding how quickly patients will bleed and their "cost of delay.”

A concrete expression of this perspective is an "Eisenhower Matrix", which helps avoid always prioritising what is urgent, even if it is unimportant:

The complex risk landscape

This perspective extends much further, even further than this blog post can accommodate. Gathering the common knowledge and insight necessary to decide whether a task should be solved and when can be a major challenge.

One approach may be to create and maintain a risk assessment that, in addition to delay costs, also includes technical, business, and market risks as well as risks associated with the lifetime risk of the solution or service. This is to acknowledge that prioritisation is often a complex process with many conflicting considerations that must be addressed in an unpredictable and changing environment.

The key concluding questions are:

  • What small steps can you take where you are to investigate whether your dominant perspective on task prioritisation is the most suitable in your context?

  • What change steps can you together test in pursuit of increased value creation, better engagement, and better flow in your organisation?

Henrik Sternberg

Read about our workshops, programmes og and talks on Flowbased leadership Questions or comments? Get in touch on LinkedIn, or by mail. If you understand Danish, I would like to invite you to listen to Klog på flow, our podcast 11 - it focuses specifically on collaborative value-based prioritisation.


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