Prioritizing Your Life with WSJF

Economics of Serializing Develoment

Effective prioritization can be a challenge in any aspect of life. Simple linear sorted lists tend to encourage inconsistent prioritization criteria between any two items on the list. Weighted shortest job first (WSJF) teases apart a set of prioritization criteria then merges them back together again to create a prioritization that appropriately considers several factors that you may care about.

Last week I attended a class in Boulder, CO that enabled me to get my SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) Program Consultant certification. I can now put the letters SPC after my name. Continue reading “Prioritizing Your Life with WSJF”


The Patent Problem

Patents have become a difficult thing. Their original purpose was to encourage innovation by causing design ideas to be published rather than being kept secret. Unfortunately, they don’t serve that purpose in a fast moving industry. They do the opposite. They actually discourage innovation in an areas with heavy or critical patent coverage. In a fast moving, high value industry, by the time the IP in the patent becomes cost effective to incorporate, either because the patent has expired or the patent holder has become willing to license at a reasonable price, the window of opportunity has usually closed. Bright people move on to other areas with greater freedom to act rather than make the incremental contributions that might help all of us. Frankly, it’s a mess right now and an inhibitor to innovation and overall economic progress.

One possible solution to this might be to come up with an adaptive patent lifetime calculation. You might be able to do this by first, defining an industry by the products produced by that industry then annually calculating the average time on the market plus average product development time for that industry. A patent’s life could be some percentage of this, say 20% for lack of a better number. There would be the usual maneuvering, sandbagging and hedging, of course, and you have the “new industry” problem when there is no reference. These are likely tractable problems. In any case, this might help the patent system extract itself from the 1800s when the pace of things was rather different. It’s ironic that the original life of a patent in the U.S. was 14 years, which is still a long time for some industries, but probably closer to where it needs to be.

From a system perspective, patent life introduces a very long delay into an industry. An interesting area of research might be if and how this creates business cycles for different industries. Old industries with periodic bursts of innovation might be one place to look. There’s also that problem that participants in an industry with closely held IP may be shooting themselves in the foot since for some industries as innovation wains so does market adoption.


Canonical Device Supply Chain

Just to provide a framework for discussion, and because I’m that kinda guy, I’ll define a canonical device supply chain as follows…


The definitions of each of these elements are not strict, in fact they’re pretty squishy, but they do provide some landmarks that enable certain kinds of descriptions.


A material is any substance used in the creation of a part. This material may have been extracted from nature or recycled from another part. It is generally monolithic in some sense. Most importantly its purpose has not yet been established. It may be applied to many different parts in a variety of ways.


Parts are objects used in assemblies. Note that a special case of an assembly may consist of only one part. A part is an arrangement of materials that play a role within an assembly. An assembly may be a part, a subassembly, that is used in other assemblies. Mechanical parts tend to play roles based on their shape and material characteristics, electrical parts play roles based on their electromagnetic characteristics, informational parts play roles based on the information that they encapsulate and produce, etc.


Assemblies are collections of parts arranged to address a particular purpose. Assemblies may be arranged hierarchically as subassemblies fitted together into higher level assemblies. A special case of an assembly is a single part. Assemblies may be very abstract. For example, a phonebook in an information context is an assembly of phone numbers. Of course, in a mechanical context, a phonebook is an assembly of pages. The pages are parts of the phonebook assembly. Each page is an assembly of ink and paper. The ink and paper are parts of these assemblies. The ink and paper are manufactured from materials.


An installation is an instantiation of an assembly in a particular context in order to achieve some purpose associated with that context. The door to my room is an assembly instantiated specifically to my room in order to be able to close it off from the outside world. It could have been used elsewhere but happened to be used for my room. Note that there is no implication that context is necessarily geographically static. A diesel engine in a locomotive moves around, but the installation context is the locomotive.


Thinking in Systems

Just finished the book Thinking in Systems: A Primer, by Donnella Meadows.It’s a good introduction to systems thinking and a high level overview of what happens when you actually begin to think in systems. Not at all technical. It’s a good and important read for everyone.

I particularly like her Guidelines for Living in a World of Systems. This list includes:

  1. Get the beat of the system.
  2. Expose your mental models to the light of day.
  3. Honor, respect, and distribute information.
  4. Use language with care and enrich it with systems concepts.
  5. Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.
  6. Make feedback policies for feedback systems.
  7. Go for the good of the whole.
  8. Listen to the wisdom of the system.
  9. Locate responsibility within the system.
  10. Stay humble— stay a learner.
  11. Celebrate complexity.
  12. Expand time horizons.
  13. Defy the disciplines.
  14. Expand the boundary of caring.
  15. Don’t erode the goal of goodness.

– Donella, Meadows. (2013-01-18). Thinking in Systems: A Primer . Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.


The Structure of Knowledge

A structure (or theory) is essential if we are to effectively interrelate and interpret our observations in any field of knowledge. Without an integrating structure, information remains a hodge-podge of fragments. Without an organizing structure, knowledge is a mere collection of observations, practices and conflicting incidents.

– Jay W. Forrester, Principles of Systems, Wright-Allen Press, 1968