Why WSJF Should Be Done on MBIs and Not Features

This article is for those who are already familiar with Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) and is mostly intended for those using WSJF on features as prescribed in SAFe.

One of Don Reinertsen’s most impactful statements is “If you only quantify one thing, quantify the Cost of Delay.” This means to look at the loss of value realized incurred by a delay.  That is, if a release is delayed by two months, and the value we would achieve is $100,000 a month, then our cost of delay is $200,000.

WSJF is a great method of sequencing the work to be done based on cost of delay. However, it requires that the items being sequenced have realizable value. A feature that is not also an MBI, doesn’t realize any value from the customer. While it does have value for the purposes of feedback, this is not cost of delay, nor what Reinertsen means. WSJF should only be applied to items that will realize value when released.

Since the features that are not MBIs have no realizable value for the customer, doing WSJF on features is a non-sequitor. This focus on features also has an unintional side effect in that this has people focus on finishing features and not finishing value that is deliverable and realizable. One can counteract this with an MBI Mindset.  It is important that sequencing of work be based on value realized to customers or internal personnel. This is another reason for using MBIs, they provide us with a focus on value realized which improves alignment.