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[Sequencer] How to Order and Prioritize


Do you have a list of things to do, but don’t know where to start? How about colouring and marking each item to help you order and prioritise what is most impactful?

The sequencer is a visual tool, easy to understand and very effective for people to better understand, organize and prioritise their work items.

You need: post-it, pen and coloured cards (green, yellow and red); or equivalent for remote settings.

Check out the sequencer step by step:

  1. Write each work item on a post-it
  2. Identify the level of confidence: WHAT versus HOW
  3. Talk about value and relative effort
  4. Order the itens (on the Sequencer)

1. Write each work item on a post-it

The post-it (or a remote representation equivalent) is the simplest and most effective tool for organizing ideas. So, let it go your current list and write down each work item on a post-it.


2. Identify the confidence level: WHAT versus HOW


“I know exactly what I want from this item and I know exactly how to do it.”

It’s beautiful when it happens! However, this is not always the case. Therefore, you need to check, for each item, the level of confidence about it.

The following chart helps you with this. Ask the following questions for each work item:

• X-axis: How confident are you about HOW to make this item?

• Y-axis: How confident are you about WHAT you want from this item?

On the X axis: Have you done this before? Do you know how to do it? The “yes” answer indicates a high level of confidence in HOW to do it. “More or less”, “maybe” or “I think so” indicates medium level; while “no” indicates low level.

On the Y axis: Do you know how to define the result of this item? Do you know WHAT you want from this item? The “yes” answer indicates a high level of confidence in WHAT to do; “More or less”, “maybe” or “I think so” indicates medium level; while “no” indicates low level.

Stick each post-it on an index card, which are green, yellow or red, identifying high, medium or low confidence levels, respectively, as shown in the WHAT versus HOW chart.

>> check out this article by Gabriel Viégas with remote tool tips for doing this activity.

The red card with an X identifies an item with a very low confidence level. Avoid it at all costs. Try to clarify it before starting to work, that is, just carry on items on green, yellow or red cards.

3. Talk about value and relative effort

Each item requires work and generates value when released. You need to talk about the relationship between effort and value for each of the items in isolation, but you also need to compare them.

The following table helps you with this conversation and provides markings of value and relative effort for the items.

Choose a work item and ask the following questions:

  • How much work (effort) to do that item? Mark with E, EE or EEE, indicating low, medium or high.
  • How much business value will we generate from this work item? Mark with $, $$ or $$$, indicating low, medium or high.
  • How much will users love this work item? Mark with one, two or three hearts, indicating low, medium or high.
  • Choose another item and repeat the questions, but now consider the markings (one, two or three) in a relative way, comparing effort and value between the items listed. If any item has markings with more than three units, break it into smaller items, in order to fit the scale of one to three units.

Repeat until you have finished checking all listed items. At the end, each card will have effort, value for the user and business value markings. For example, the figure below shows six work items, colored according to the level of confidence and with their effort and value markings.

4. Order the itens (on the Sequencer)

From steps 1, 2, and 3, you have a set of items with colours and markings, indicating the level of confidence, effort, value for the user and value for the business.

Now, it’s time for you to show the most appropriate order to perform these work items.

To do this, use the template and the sequencer rules.

Sequencer template

Imagine a sequence of waves, one wave after another, and the waves are approximately the same size. These waves are numbered: 1, 2, 3 and so on. This is the sequencer template.

The aim is to execute what is most impactful as soon as possible, right on the first waves. And keep working on the sequencer work items, wave by wave.

result example: ordered and prioritised items

To help decide what to put on which wave and normalize the size of the waves, follow the sequencer rules.

The sequencer rules

These are the six rules for adding cards to the sequencer. Such rules were defined after applying this form of organization and prioritization of work items numerous times.

  • Rule 1: A wave can contain a maximum of three cards.
  • Rule 2: A wave cannot contain more than one red card.
  • Rule 3: A wave cannot contain three cards if none is green.
  • Rule 4: The amount of effort on the cards cannot exceed five Es.
  • Rule 5: The sum of the value of the cards of a wave cannot be less than five $ s and five hearts.
  • Rule 6: If a card depends on another card, that other card must be in a previous wave.

Rule 1 limits the number of items being worked on at the same time. This avoids the accumulation of partially completed items, increasing the focus to the few prioritized items. Rules 2, 3 and 4 prevent an unbalanced period of work, with too much uncertainty or too much effort. Rule 5 ensures a constant focus on delivering high value to the business and users. Rule 6 avoids dependency problems.

ordered items in the sequencer

ordered and grouped items (e.g. MVP, increment)

Enjoy a colourful and meaningful list

Bring color and meaning to your to-do list! Use the sequencer to view your list with colors, relative priorities and the order to follow. Tweet This.


The Sequencer (and much more) is on the best-seller book Lean Inception.

You find these and other inceptions activities here.




Paulo Caroli

Paulo Caroli is the author of the best-selling book “Lean Inception: How to Align People and Build the Right Product” (the first on a series of books on business agility). He's also the creator of FunRetrospectives.com , a site and book about retrospectives, futurospectives and team building activities. Caroli writes on this blog frequently. Receive the next post in your email. Sign up here.
Lean Inception: Learn How to Align People and Build the Right Product

Lean Inception: Learn How to Align People and Build the Right Product

Lean Inception is a crucial agile methodology for aligning teams on effective product creation. Introduced by Paulo Caroli, it combines Design Thinking and Lean StartUp techniques to define strategies and Minimum Viable Product (MVP) scope. It is valuable for large projects, startups, and business innovations. Not suitable for discovery activities, prototyping decisions, or cross-team alignment. Active participants, stakeholders, and skilled facilitators are essential for the success of this collaborative process. Lean Inception is fundamental for guiding teams toward meaningful and efficient product outcomes.

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