a blue background with "WSJF Your Life" in yellow text accompanied by an illustration of a man with a table

By Brian Ralph | 4 Minute Read

As a coach, I was having trouble identifying if I was spending my time in the right areas and prioritizing my work appropriately. I decided to grab my journal and try to write my way into clarity. As I reached into my bag for my notebook, I found a rumpled sheet of paper. It was a grid I had filled out at an Agile conference I had attended that same month. At the conference, a speaker presented a tool that helped her focus her energies on the right places. When she approached work, she measured her passion around the task, her ability to accomplish it, and the value it brought to the organization. She handed us this grid and had us fill out three large chunks of work we had accomplished that week. Mine looked something like this:

Item of WorkPassionAbilityValueTotal
Metrics Dashboard Creation

She then had us weight each item using Fibonacci numbers.

Item of WorkPassionAbilityValueTotal
Metrics Dashboard Creation381324
a pencil and dashboard with graphs illustration

Adding the numbers helped me think through each item. For example, writing: I loved doing it, I was good at it (you be the judge of that), but was anyone in the organization reading it? Was writing valued in that client’s environment? It was valuable to me, but what about the community I was investing in? The inverse with dashboards: I avoided creating dashboards, partly because I wasn’t good at it, but the client needed visibility into their work and a way of making that information meaningful to them. Knowing that motivated me to do more of it, which increased my ability to do it, and thus increased my passion around it.

a blue whistle

I looked at my totals. Should I coach more? It was only slightly higher than Dashboards and Writing. But there was something missing, and in WSJF I found the missing piece. Job size.

When sequencing large bodies of work, companies often use a Lean manufacturing technique called Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF). In short, it measures the cost of delay (COD: cost of not doing something) against the size of the work. If you have a winning idea that could corner a market segment, and there is a risk it will leak out, causing you to lose that very segment, the cost of delay is high. If the job size is small, and the product or service can be released into the market fast, comparing the high cost of delay against the small job size informs us that this work must jump to the front of the line. Some frameworks create sub-categories of COD to enable businesses to think deeply about COD.

The formula looks like this:

the equation WSJF equals Cost of Delay divided by Job Duration (Job Size) on a blue background

Taking a leaf out of the WSJF world, I added Job Size to my grid.

Item of WorkPassionAbilityValueSub TotalJob SizeWSJF
Metrics Dashboard Creation38132454.8

I looked at writing. My passion was high but so was the job size. It was taking me away from the other items. In that particular season with that client, was it right to spend so much time on it? Although I was passionate about coaching, I realized I was doing little of it, and increasing it just a little could bring great value. I adjusted the job sizes, lowered the amount of time I was putting into writing, increased the coaching time and muscled through the dashboards to a point where I enjoy the process of creating.

Since borrowing this method some years back and adding in job size, I’ve used this tool to check in with myself and my leaders to determine if my energy is being spent in the right areas. I’ve also run short workshops on it where clients have found value. If you find yourself in the place I was in, where you just cannot put your finger on the problem, consider using this method. Reach out for help. WSJF your life.