Identifying Classes of Service

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The work done by most organizations falls into different types. For instance, a capability you are developing may have to be delivered by a certain key date: If the capability is not delivered by then, the amount of value it delivers drops precipitously or there may even be legal consequences. This is very different from work that “gets done when it gets done.”

Classes of Service are the main types of work done by the organization/team. Different Classes of Service are differentiated by their amount of time pressure or urgency, as well as separate needs such as making sure that at least some items of a given type are worked on.

Who Does This Practice

Here are roles involved in this practice:

What To Do


Inputs to this practice include:

  • Release dates with any specific delivery requirements or commitments
  • Emergency requests, such as critical defects, technical debt that’s hit home


To develop a list of the Classes of Service:

  1. Classify all work items in existing work backlogs into Classes of Service
  2. Identify unique policies for work on each Class of Service

Analyze value items (Capabilities, MBIs, Features, Stories) for how they are sensitive to time (primarily) or other special handling. For instance, some common Classes of Service include:

  • Business Value: Pre-planned work that will increase the value delivered to customers and the business. Typically managed normally using the “happy path” process.
  • Internal Projects: Work that improves the capabilities of the organization such as new tooling. Also managed normally but viewed separate from Business value work to allow balancing team capacity between the two.
  • Changes: Work that repairs prior mistakes, or improves existing product through better understanding.
  • Expedites (“Shoulder taps”): High-priority unscheduled work, not anticipated due to new circumstances or deficient strategizing or planning (in the latter case, good source for process improvement ideas). Might require doing whatever it takes to process ASAP, including reprioritizing it to the front of the list, and, if necessary, exceeding Work-in-Process (WIP) limits temporarily.
  • Fixed Dates: Work with a hard date of delivery such as a Trade Show or a regulatory deadline. One could establish setback from delivery date, by which work will have commenced.
  • Interruptions: While you may do these the same as other classes of service, it is worth treating them as a special case because the frequency of these should be managed.


A completed list of Classes of Service includes:

  • The list of Classes of Service, with definitions of each
  • Any policies unique to handling work items in a given Class of Service

Examples of policies:

  • A policy for when an Expedite item can interrupt a work item of another type (e.g., Standard Business) already underway
  • A policy for how to allocate the available capacity of the team across all types of Classes of Service (e.g., “20% of capacity goes to change items”)

When To Do This Practice

During the initial analysis of an organization’s or team’s work, generally at the same time as Value Stream Mapping

Where To Do This Practice

Identifying Classes of Service is done in conjunction with the members of the organization or team.


Here are some expected outcomes from this practice:

  • Work is completed when needed, with minimal disruption to other work
  • Work of all classes of service is performed with the optimal mix between them
  • Work of different types of time criticality need to be handled in different ways, to complete everything when it is needed. Classes of Service makes this visible and explicit.