Bisect your Priority of Constituencies

Your product, service, or organisation almost certainly has a priority of constituencies, even if it’s not written down or otherwise formally-encoded. A famous example would be that expressed in the Web Platform Design Principles. It dictates how you decide between two competing needs, all other things being equal.

At Three Rings, for example, our priority of constituencies might1 look like this:

  1. The needs of volunteers are more important than
  2. The needs of voluntary organisations, which are more important than
  3. Continuation of the Three Rings service, which is more important than
  4. Adherance to technical standards and best practice, which is more important than
  5. Development of new features

These are all things we care about, but we’re talking about where we might choose to rank them, relative to one another.

Semicircular illustration showing five facets of growing relative importance. From least to most, they are: new features, standards-compliance, service continuity, organisation needs, volunteer needs.
The priorities and constituencies portrayed in this illustration are ficticious. Any resemblence to real priorities and constituencies, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

The priorities of an organisation you’re involved with won’t be the same: perhaps it includes shareholders, regulatory compliance, different kinds of end-users, employees, profits, different measures of social good, or various measurable outputs. That’s fine: every system is different.

But what I’d challenge you to do is find ways to bisect your priorities. Invent scenarios that pit each constituency against itself another and discuss how they should be prioritised, all other things being equal.

Using the example above, I might ask “which is more important?” in each category:

  1. The needs of the volunteers developing Three Rings, or the needs of the volunteers who use it?
  2. The needs of organisations that currently use the system, or the needs of organisations that are considering using it?
  3. Achieving a high level of uptime, or promptly installing system updates?
  4. Compliance with standards as-written, or maximum compatibility with devices as-used?
  5. Implementation of new features that are the most popular user requests, or those which provide the biggest impact-to-effort payoff?
Illustrated priority list from above, which each item split into two and re-named such that they are, from least to most important: popular features, impact features, compliance, usability, uptime, updates, future clients, current clients, other volunteers, our volunteers.
These might not be your answers to the same questions. They’re not even necessarily mine, and they’re even less-likely to be representative of Three Rings CIC. It’s just illustrative.

The aim of the exercise isn’t to come up with a set of commandments for your company. If you come up with something you can codify, that’s great, but if you and your stakeholders just use it as an exercise in understanding the relative importance of different goals, that’s great too. Finding where people disagree is more-important than having a unifying creed2.

And of course this exercise applicable to more than just organisational priorities. Use it for projects or standards. Use it for systems where you’re the only participant, as a thought exercise. A priority of constituencies can be a beautiful thing, but you can understand it better if you’re willing to take it apart once in a while. Bisect your priorities, and see what you find.

Footnotes

1 Three Rings doesn’t have an explicit priority of constituencies: the example I give is based on my own interpretation, but I’m only a small part of the organisation.

2 Having a creed is awesome too, though, as I’ve said before.

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