Managing Now-Next-Later

  • 21 September 2022
  • 6 replies

Userlevel 4
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I am curious how everyone is managing Now-Next-Later.

In our definition Now = current quarter, Next=next quarter or so, Later everything after.

If in Q3 we had something in Next (as in Q4), are folks moving things back to Now when Q4 arrives or just leaving it there? Wondering what are the best practices :) 

6 replies

Userlevel 7
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I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules here, but the original concept of N/N/L was to ground these as time horizons. It was intended to lay out the things you were looking to address, in a rough order, to meet the outcomes/objectives for your product.

Some folks do think about these in terms of quarters, others in around their cadences or cycles (e.g. sprints, releases), but the real beauty is when you can avoid that all together, so you focus on the Now, then move onto the Next, and keep track of the problems and opportunities you could solve later while continually adjusting what’s next.

In your example, yes, you’d be moving things from Now to Next, and adjusting what Now would be focussed on, then pulling things from Later into Next and adding likely to Later.

Userlevel 5
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IMHO, this model really shines when you completely divorce it from planned delivery or start dates and focus on priority and level of confidence. 

Here’s how I’ve defined it over the years:

  • Now consists of the things you’re actively developing, testing, or releasing. “We need to finish this before anything else happens.”
  • Next consists of the items you plan to address when there’s room in the Now column. You’re pretty confident about the need to work on these opportunities, but things change and this list is not as constant as Now. The opportunities here are well defined and ready for work when an opening arises.
  • Later is the category for things you think will transition to Next when capacity and timing are right but, as Lumburgh would say, “I’m just not sure about that right now”. You’ve investigated and done some refinement here but definition is still a little soft around the edges and will need development if they enter the Next column. And depending on what happens in the Now, you might pull something straight up and skip Next altogether -- get ready to define fast!

The big conceptual shift here is how you talk about commitments with leadership and the rest of the company. If it’s anywhere in those columns, it’s something you’re taking very seriously, but the commitment is fuzzier as you move from left (Now) to right (Later).

There’s also a backlog of opps that aren’t in any of these columns because you aren’t making any commitment on those yet.


I like the definition of @plainclothes ! I basically used the same. Hence my now column is usually 1 or 3 opportunities, the next a little more and then the rest is in later. 
But I noticed that I am also moving away from just NNL and setup board based on Status + tag. 

  • Now would be “in progress” (delivery or discovery)
  • Next would be “ready for delivery”
  • Later would be “new idea” and “on hold” 

Userlevel 4
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I agree with everyone’s comments we just like to give context on the super high-level timeframe of Now and Next for our exec team but aligned with everyone’s views :) 

Userlevel 5
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@Samkay I’ve been sucked into the “just tell us when” trap a few times when using the NNL approach.

For execs that can’t escape the production line mindset, I keep a separate board. That board typically gives a more detailed perspective on the Now column. Those are the items we’re committed on. If the execs want more committed items, I let them know how much we’ll need to increase team size to pull in more commitments.

It’s interesting to hear how others are using Later. For my part, I’ve gone away from throwing everything in there. I believe it’s important to show the organization that everything shown on the board, regardless of commitment has been reviewed to some extent and we believe delivering on those opps will further strategic progress.

For things that haven’t made it to the NNL board, I keep two other high-level categories:

  • “Idea backlog” holds all the stuff that needs to be evaluated.
  • “Not yet” is for things that have been evaluated and determined to be valid but not strategic.

I also reserve the right to just close out those things that shouldn’t take up anyone’s brain power ever again 😁

Userlevel 4
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thx for the insights @plainclothes :) this is definitely helpful. At our stage now later is more like a hybrid of ideal backlog/not yet