Organizations rarely have the budget and resources to do everything they want to do, especially in terms of IT projects. So they need to prioritize whatever resources they have, so they can focus on the items that provide the best return on investment. But who gets to decide where to devote resources and what criteria do they use? Sometimes, large projects are easy to evaluate because they are part of a strategic vision of the CEO or required by law. But some smaller projects might not get enough visibility to help decision makers to make informed decisions. Spreading out the decision process and getting input from a wider group of stakeholders can improve the decision process — when managed correctly. Stakeholders appreciate being part of the process which makes them more invested in the outcome. The results need to be based on defined criteria — not just gut feelings — to be valuable to the organization.
Benefits of using Rational Focal Point to set priorities
IBM® Rational® Focal Point™ helps managers in organizations set priorities activities, ranging from individual requirements to large projects or initiatives. The process can involve as much or as little stakeholder input as they want. By using multiple weighted criteria and other features included in the software, decision makers can see where they should apply resources. The result of the exercise is a concise, ordered list of elements that takes all of the criteria into consideration.
Enter and track elements easily
One of the benefits of using Rational Focal Point is that it has a variety of functions (or options) available to record and track the information that you want to review. Whether it is projects, initiatives, requirements, or other factors, you can create a module for any type of element that you want to track or prioritize. Each item entered into Rational Focal Point is considered an element. Elements are grouped together with similar elements into modules. Figure 1 shows a Projects module with five elements. (See the Resources section for a link to a demonstration.)
Figure 1. Custom Projects module and project element details
Additionally, you can make these elements living records that will continue to be useful beyond the prioritization exercise and link them to applications integrated with the Rational solution for Collaborative Lifecycle Management (CLM).
Rational Focal Point does not require programming skills to create elements or views. Nearly all functions, such as defining attributes, views, and criteria, can be performed by typical users. They need to invest only a little time to learn how to create, update, and share new functionality quickly and easily.
Create multiple criteria
Rational Focal Point structures priorities according to criteria, and you'll find it especially helpful when you provide multiple criteria for making a decision. Using multiple weighted criteria to reach a consensus or decision is called the analytic hierarchy process. The stakeholders determine what criteria the elements should be judged on and the weight of each criterion. For example, if you are judging IT projects, you might decide that one criterion is to increase traffic to your website. This is a "maximize" criterion, because you want to select the elements that do the most to improve traffic. Another criterion could be reducing the complexity of the project. This would be a "minimize" criterion, because you want to select elements that reduce complexity.
The process of using multiple criteria enables an organization to rank the elements based on different perspectives. For example, imagine that the project that increases web traffic the most is also the most complex, but another project that doesn't increase traffic quite as much is significantly less complex. Using a weighted criteria prioritization process would generally show you that the second project is a better fit, because it meets both of your criteria, but the first project meets only one.
Because criteria are the critical building blocks of any prioritization exercise, Rational Focal Point includes a Criteria module.
Figure 2. Criteria module
After you create your elements and criteria, the next step is determining which elements best meet those criteria. Rather than having a single person make those decisions, Rational Focal Point helps you open the decision-making process to a wider audience, from only a few key stakeholders to a much larger group. Using prioritization mode, each of these voters can judge the elements against the criteria and contribute to the consensus.
Going back to the example with two web projects, Rational Focal Point isn't making the decision of which project increases website traffic the most. It is up to the voters to make that determination by judging that project against all other projects. In other words, voters do not have to guess that this project will increase traffic by 10% or something specific. They merely have to decide whether they think this project will increase traffic slightly more, significantly more, or less than another project.
The process that Rational Focal Point uses for voters to rank elements is called pairwise comparison. Rather than giving the voters a list and asking them to rank items on the list from 1 to N, the application randomly selects two elements and asks the voters to judge them on a single criterion. As the blue bar at the bottom of Figure 3 shows, they use a 9-point scale that includes 4 values to prefer the first (left) element, 4 values that prefer the second (right) element, and an option to rank them equally.
Figure 3. Pairwise comparison example
When a voter ranks these two elements, the application chooses the next two elements for the voter to rank. The prioritization process enables a voter to weigh the elements against each other. This simplifies the thought process, because the voter is evaluating only two elements at a time, rather than a long list of elements. Voters need to complete only a limited number of comparisons for the application to compute the weighted ranking of all elements for that criterion.
However, Rational Focal Point also supports entering values for criteria rather than doing a pairwise comparison. This is helpful if you know the exact information. For example, if one criterion is project cost and you know that number, you can enter that value rather than using pairwise comparisons to gauge it. For more information, see the Specifying the estimates for criteria in the information center.
Part of the value of prioritization is assigning weights to your criteria. To weight your criteria, you can prioritize elements in your Criteria module. The resulting weighting is then applied to other elements that are judged by those criteria.
Display results visually
After voters complete their own pairwise comparisons for any criterion, they can see the results by using the Visualize feature.
Visualization ranks the elements and shows the relative weighting of each element. Figure 4 shows five projects ranked on the criterion of increasing sales. The top element received roughly twice as much weight as the second element for this criterion.
Figure 4. Visual results for one voter's priorities
Combine different results in a bar graph display
Rational Focal Point can combine multiple criteria in a single display that shows both positive (maximize) and negative (minimize) criteria (see Figure 5). The positive criteria are added on the right of the center bar and the negative criteria appear on the left. Using this combined visualization, you can view the ranking across the multiple criteria. Elements with a combination of the highest positive and lowest negative rankings appear at the top.
Figure 5. Combined results
Drawbacks of using the default prioritization settings
The default prioritization process works well in many situations, especially when there are a very small number of voters and they all have an equal say in the decision. But that is rare in real-world situations.
If you decide to create public criteria for the prioritization, everyone will vote on the same criteria. If the first voter decides that Project A is significantly better for client value than Project B, it is very difficult to sway things back the other way, even if every other voter thinks that Project B is better than Project A. With public prioritizations, there are also a maximum number of comparisons that can be made before no additional votes will be accepted.
You can overcome some of those issues by using private criteria. The private criteria type creates a unique criterion for each user. But there are drawbacks to using private criteria, too:
- First, everyone's votes are calculated equally. You might have the organization leader voting along with the department heads on projects. Although it would be great to assume that everyone has an equal vote, in many cases, leaders are happier if their votes are weighted higher.
- Second, when you attempt to visualize the combined results of private criteria, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the number of unique votes, as Figure 6 shows.
Figure 6. Default private prioritization
- Another drawback becomes apparent when you have multiple departments that want to vote. Perhaps IT, Sales, Marketing, and Finance all want to vote. To further complicate it, you have four voters from IT, six from Sales, two from Marketing, and three from Finance. Using the default private criteria prioritization process, Sales would get 40% of the vote because of the number of people voting.
The way to overcome these drawbacks is to customize the prioritization process.
Configure Rational Focal Point for team-based prioritization
Although your elements module will stay the same, a team-based prioritization process requires customization of the Criteria module. You will need to have Workspace Administration rights in to customize that module.
Add an attribute to the Criteria module
First, you need to modify the Criteria module to add a Member field. You can use that field to associate a specific criterion with a voter.
- From the Configure menu, select Attributes.
- Select the Criteria module.
- Select Add Attribute.
- Select a Link attribute.
Memberas the title.
- Set the Target module to the Members module (or a view in that module).
- Select OK to save your changes.
Create folders and copy criteria for each voter
Next, you need to create folders in your Criteria module that match the structure that you want to use. The organization of the folders is dependent on what you want the final visualization to look like. In our first example, we created a folder for the type of criteria (project criteria) and then a subfolder for each specific criterion (web traffic, complexity, and so forth).
Set each of these folders to a criteria type of Sum. When creating the folders, make sure to set whether these are maximize or minimize objectives.
Figure 7. Criteria folders
- After you have set up this structure, create a single criterion in the first folder for the first criterion (for example: Increase web traffic).
- Set this to Public and either the maximize or minimize objective.
- Then copy this criterion for every other voter.
- After you have made the copies, select the person in the Member field that you created. Tip: It will be easier to track whether you have created a criterion for each member if you add the voter's name in the description.
Figure 8. Individual criteria by role of each voter
Creating a criterion for every user can be tedious, and it is not required. You could create a criterion for each team, instead. However, there are three benefits of creating the criteria for each user:
- You can give additional weight to specific individuals.
- You can balance votes better if you have a different number of voters on each team.
- You can more easily create the My Prioritizations view that is described in the next section.
Create a My Prioritizations view
When you have the criteria set up, you need to create a prioritization view that displays only the criteria for the current user.
- Create a My Criteria view:
- From the Configure menu, create a new view by selecting Views and then clicking Add View.
- Name the view
- Select the Criteria module and set the view rules to these values:
- All elements in the Criteria module whose type is a folder is false
- Member is Current user
- Save that view. It is not necessary to make that view displayable.
- Create a My Prioritizations view
- Create a second new view as you did previously in Step 1.
- Title the view "
My Prioritizations," and select the module that contains the elements that you want to prioritize (Projects in this example).
- Set the view rules to select the elements for prioritization, perhaps based on a status field or a parent folder.
- Select only the attributes that are important for voters to see as ones that are visible in this view.
- Set the view to appear in the Prioritize display.
- Set the Criteria view to the My Criteria view that you created.
- Share this view with all voters.
Figure 9. My Prioritizations view definition
Voters will now be able to complete their pairwise comparisons and vote only on the criteria you have specified for them.
Visualize the results of the team's prioritization
After voting is finished, you can display (visualize) the results. Another benefit of creating individual criteria is the ability to reorganize the criteria to generate different views. As long as you do not delete a specific criterion but merely move it between different folders, you can adjust the overall display.
The first example that follows (Figure 10) shows the results based on the original folder structure of the criteria. Given that you created each folder as a sum, you can create a view to select only those sums and display the results.
Create the views
- Create the criteria view for the visualization:
- Create a new view by selecting Views in the Configure menu, and then click Add View.
- Name the view
Top Level Criteria.
- Select the Criteria module.
- For the Top Level Criteria view, set the view rules to these values:
- All elements in the Criteria module whose type is a folder is true
- Parent Folder is Project Criteria
- Save the view.
- Create a view:
- Create a new view by using the same rules that you did for the prioritization view.
- Set the Visualize module to Yes.
- Set the Criteria view for this view to the Top Level Criteria view that you created.
By using the folder sum method, you get a clearer view of results, and you can adjust the weight of the criteria using the Criteria Scenarios function.
Figure 10. Top Level Criteria visualization
In our next example, we took those same results and put them in a different view to get a more detailed view at the team level. In this case, we changed the structure of the criteria folders that show the sum of the results of the individual votes under Team Criteria folders rather than Project Criteria folders. The results give you the same general ordering of projects, but you can see how each team voted on each criteria and the total results. We had to create separate maximize and minimize folders, because sums don't work when you mix maximize and minimize criteria.
Figure 11. Team folders structure
Figure 12. Team-level visual summary of results
You can customize this structure in whatever way people in your organization want to view the prioritization results. As long as you create a single criterion for each voter and each category of criteria, you can arrange the criteria into different folders and see the results without altering the overall results.
These examples are just some of the ways that we have worked with prioritization to give our organizations insightful views on how to make decisions about where to best allocate resources. We encourage you to customize this to suit the needs of your organization.
- Find out more about Focal Point:
- Download and watch the seven-minute Project portfolio management using IBM Rational Focal Point demo to learn more.
- Browse the Rational Focal Point overview page, as well as the developerWorks page, where you'll find data sheets, system requirements, specific benefits, and related articles and white papers.
- Check the Rational Focal Point Information Center for the user guides (documentation), where you can learn more in the section called Prioritizing elements and criteria.
- Explore the Rational software area on developerWorks for technical resources and best practices for other Rational Software Delivery Platform products.
- Stay current with developerWorks technical events and webcasts focused on a variety of IBM products and IT industry topics.
- Improve your skills. Check the Rational training and certification catalog, which includes many types of courses on a wide range of topics. You can take some of them anywhere, any time, and many of the Getting Started ones are free.
Get products and technologies
- Try Rational Focal Point in an online sandbox.
- Download a free trial version of other Rational software.
- Evaluate other IBM software in the way that suits you best: Download it for a trial, try it online, use it in a cloud environment.
- Join the Rational Focal Point forum to ask questions and participate in discussions.
- Get connected with your peers and keep up on the latest information in the Rational community.
- Follow Rational software on Facebook, Twitter (@ibmrational), and YouTube, and add your comments and requests.
- Ask and answer questions and increase your expertise when you get involved in the Rational forums, cafés, and wikis.