Better Prioritization – Sequencing & Classes of Service Explained

Better Prioritization – Sequencing & Classes of Service Explained

Author: David Anderson, pioneer of the Kanban Method, co-author of the Kanban Maturity Model, CEO of Mauvius Group Inc.

We don't perform a specific activity to prioritize work for kanban systems. Instead, we practice dynamic prioritization, selecting items of work on-the-spot, based on risk, or other desirable outcomes such as fairness, good customer service, or value.

The term ¨prioritization¨ is proscribed in Kanbanland. Prioritization, re-prioritization, and backlog gardening are all busy work for someone, but they represent needless waste. Instead of the term, and the activity of, ¨prioritization¨, we prefer the explicit terms of selection, scheduling, sequencing, and class of service.

  • Selection – choosing one thing over other available options
  • Scheduling – determining when to start work on something (time sequencing)
  • Sequencing – ordering by preference, queuing
  • Classes of service – the policies, including the queuing discipline, usually determined by  risk and/or value, that determine how something is treated once it has  been accepted as work to be undertaken and delivered

This article explains the power of sequencing and the use of classes of service (in combination sometimes called ¨queuing discipline¨) and how these techniques are used in the real world to provide professional, high-quality service.

Background

Since August I´ve been living in the Austrian Alps. Fiber to the  premises (FTTP) means that Internet access is first class, and the high  mountains seemed like the ideal place to spend time during a pandemic.  Plenty of fresh air and hiking have fueled my brain with oxygen and I´ve  been highly productive creating new materials and ideas.

I spend my days in a combination of walking or biking in the  mountains, sitting taking hot chocolate and homemade cakes in Alpine  huts, and working online from my apartment. Austria is famous for its  hospitality and the level of service in its tourism industry. I´ve been  studying how, often a single waitress, keeps a fully occupied garden  with 15-20 tables of guests, satisfied and well-served. The waitress  employs 4 basic classes of service and queuing discipline, with an  option for a fifth. To fully understand this you have to know how to translate what the waitress means, and not just what she says (see  table).

Classes of Service in the Alps

These are the five basic classes of service of an Alpine hut, and from them, you can see the queuing discipline is typically FIFO (first  in, first out), unless someone has a reason to jump the queue.

¨Entschuldigen Sie bitte. Wir fahren um halb drei Uhr mit der  Seilbahn . Wenn moeglich, kannst Du uns schnell zwei Kaffee bringen?¨  Two of my English friends, who´ve lived here for over 20 years, ask the  waitress for the Fixed Delivery Date class of service. ¨Excuse me  please, we are taking the 2.30pm cable car. If possible, can you bring  us two coffees quickly?¨

She likes them, and answers. ¨Passt! Kommt sofort.¨ Their request to jump the queue has been approved.

And hence, we have the sixth class of service, fixed date, based on  urgency, familiarity, and frequency of repeat business – regular  customers who normally wait in line like everyone else can get privileges from time to time.

Dynamic Queue Management

The waitress doesn´t prioritize her backlog and reprioritize it. Instead, she dynamically manages the queue based on unwritten policies of  fairness, customer service, and value to the business. This comes  naturally to her. Any other way would be unimaginable.

Work Item Types

There are two basic types of requests: requests for service – food and  drinks; and requests to pay the bill. For the most part, both types are  treated with the same policies – ordering doesn't take precedence over settling up, nor the reverse. If circumstances changed and a queue formed waiting for a table, then perhaps settling up, clearing, and cleaning tables would get some slight preference, but under normal  demand loads this is not the case. And now we see again the possibility  for a dynamic and subtle shift in policy, when demand is unusually high,  requests to pay take priority over requests for ¨Noch eine cappuccino¨  (another cappuccino please).

Conclusion: Selection and sequencing, not prioritization

The waitress selects the service requests, sequences the customers, and adjusts the queue of waiting customers dynamically. While customers may be given priority, like my English friends rushing for the cable  car, the backlog is never prioritized, or reprioritized. Just 5 classes  of service are sufficient to provide a sustainable level of acceptable  customer service.

(1) Contributed by Oliver Finker from his own personal experience as a younger man, working in the Alps as a waiter.

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