Prioritize and Optimize Over a Slightly Longer Horizon

A lot of agile literature stresses that product owners must prioritize the delivery of value. I’m not going to argue with that. But I am going to argue that product owners need to optimize Street Sign with Short-Term and Long-Term Arrowsover a slightly longer horizon than a single sprint.

A product owner’s goal is to maximize the amount of value delivered over the life a product. If the product owner shows up at each sprint planning meeting focused on maximizing the value delivered in only that one sprint, the product owner will never choose to invest in the system’s future.

The product owner will instead always choose to deliver the feature that delivers the most value in the immediate future regardless of the long-term benefit. Such a product owner is like the pleasure-seeking student who parties every night during the semester but fails, and has to repeat the course during the summer.

A product owner with a short time horizon may have the team work on features A1, B1, C1 and D1 in four different parts of the application this sprint because those are the highest valued features.

A product owner with a more appropriate, longer view of the product will instead have the team work on A1, A2, A3 and A4 in the first sprint because there are synergies to working on all the features in area A at the same time.

Agile is still about focusing on value. And it’s still about making sure we deliver value in the short term. We just don’t want to become shortsighted about it.

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Mike Cohn

About the Author

Mike Cohn specializes in helping companies adopt and improve their use of agile processes and techniques to build extremely high-performance teams. He is the author of User Stories Applied for Agile Software Development, Agile Estimating and Planning, and Succeeding with Agile as well as the Better User Stories video course. Mike is a founding member of the Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance and can be reached at If you want to succeed with agile, you can also have Mike email you a short tip each week.