How to Do Backlog Prioritization Easily and Efficiently? 

In agile software development, prioritizing the product backlog is a critical element of the development planning process. Deciding what to develop first and in what order to prioritize tasks helps development teams plan their work efficiently.

This article might help you understand what are the benefits of backlog prioritization, and how you can do it using StoriesOnBoard.

Contents

How would you prioritize the backlog items? How do you decide which features should take priority over others?

Backlog prioritization is a critical part of the Product Owner’job. The PO is the person who is responsible for defining the key features and functionality of the product. The PO or the Product Manager must make the right decisions in setting priorities to ensure that the most valuable functionalities will be delivered within the agreed timeframe.

This article shows you the best product prioritization methods and how to use them effectively to achieve your goals.

What is a product backlog?

A product backlog creates and maintains an up-to-date connection between the PO and the dev team. It is a collection of key features or user stories the dev team needs to develop your software. Backlog prioritization helps you focus on the backlog items that represent the highest value for the users. (That’s why the agile methodology calls it value-driven development.)

The most common backlog form is a list where the most important items are at the top so the development team knows what to deliver first.

A product backlog is a collection of key features or user stories the dev team needs to develop your software. Backlog prioritization helps you focus on the backlog items that represent the highest value for the users.

The most common backlog form is a list where the most important items are at the top so the development team knows what to deliver first.

A product backlog also can be derived from the product roadmap.

You can also convert the story map into a product backlog if you started your product discovery by first creating a backbone of the product through user stories.

The story maps and product roadmaps help all stakeholders to see the big picture and develop a shared product vision. On the contrary, the backlog is most frequently used by the development team to guide what they should develop and in what order.

Iteration planning, backlog maintenance, and backlog refinement

Iteration planning is also based on the backlog. During a meeting before each iteration, all development tasks are accounted for in the backlog and team members discuss and decide with the PO which items should be included in the next sprint.

After the initial backlog prioritization at the beginning of the project, Product owners should regularly review the backlog to ensure that their previous backlog prioritization is still correct as the backlog continues to grow. If necessary, the PO re-prioritizes the backlog to backorder those items that have been out of scope. It is often called backlog refinement or backlog grooming.

What is backlog prioritization?

Backlog prioritization helps to clearly define what to focus on to maximize the product team’s ability to create value.

Prioritizing the backlog items to be developed in terms of business and customer value is one of the most important steps in the agile software development process.

Why backlog prioritization is important?

Prioritization brings measurable benefits in terms of time, money, and product success, and bad decisions set the product back. A well-prioritized backlog organizes what the product development team spends its time on and makes it easier to plan the release and the next iteration.

That’s why backlog prioritization is one of the most challenging decision-making tasks for POs.

What creates value, and what to consider during product backlog prioritizing?

  • Customer satisfaction / User satisfaction
  • Business value
  • Complexity
  • Minimizing risks
  • Opportunity to gain a competitive advantage
  • Time to develop
  • Cost to develop and implement
  • Dependencies
  • Number of users/frequency of users affected by the change

How to prioritize a product backlog?

A product backlog item can be new feature requests, epics or user stories, bugs, design changes, change requirements, technical debt, or action items from the retrospective.

Although it is the Product Owner’s or the Product Manager’s responsibility to prioritize the backlog, they are not entirely on their own to solve the task. The PO is supported in making informed decisions by the insights and feedback from users or customers, and the development team, and of course, there are many methods and tools to help them.

Most common backlog prioritization techniques

These backlog prioritization models are a crucial part of project planning and management.

Use the prioritization technique that suits best your team, so it is worth getting to know the most commonly used backlog prioritization models.

Product managers and agile teams initially choose more simple techniques to standardize prioritization. We built some into StoriesOnBoard, which you are free to try out.

Make product decisions with confidence – prioritizing with StoriesOnBoard

Story maps are great tools for exploring user journeys in more depth, and mapping all the steps a user can take in the product. There are many different ways to prioritize user stories in story maps during the product discovery phase of the agile development process.

Prioritization is also an important step in feedback management because ideas and insights need to be prioritized on the idea board before they are transferred to the story map.

However, we usually start planning development tasks with the larger backlog items. (These can later be broken down into smaller parts of an existing story map or in a brand new story map.) Therefore, for an overview and shared understanding of all stakeholders, it can be useful to create a roadmap of these large items to facilitate backlog prioritization and scheduling.

Due to support informed decisions, we have added a priority framework to the product roadmap. It’s easy and efficient to make these sometimes difficult decisions.

Initially, the Value vs. Effort method and the RICE framework are included in the priority view, which are the most popular methods for prioritizing backlog items.

Let’s see them:

Value vs. Effort

value vs effort backlog prioritization
Value vs effort backlog prioritization framework

The Value vs. Effort prioritization framework is one of the easiest ways to decide what to build next. One of the most significant benefits of the framework is that the flexibility of value and effort can mean different things to different companies and organizations.

Value

To determine the value of a backlog item, ask: “How does this contribute to the achievement of the project’s objective?”

Don’t forget to standardize the definition of the values in each of the following categories with the development team:

  • Barely impactful
  • Slightly impactful
  • Moderately impactful
  • Highly impactful
  • Extremely impactful
Effort

This metric helps you to decide how difficult this task is to complete. Remember that Effort should be based on an estimate by all parties involved and a joint decision by the dev or product team.

  • XS
  • S
  • M
  • L
  • XL

Learn more about this method and how to use it on StoriesOnBoard.

RICE framework

The RICE framework is also one of the most popular prioritization methods, recently developed by the Intercom team.

rice backlog prioritization
Rice backlog prioritization framework

RICE makes it easy to determine which product features and other items to include in your roadmap.

Items are scored according to the four factors that give the method its name (Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort). This RICE score allows quantifying importance and comparing initiatives or feature ideas.

Reach

 The ‘reach’ score is the number of users that will be affected by the implementation of a particular feature within a given timeframe.

 If it is difficult to determine the exact reach, try using a scale of 1-10 for different levels, e.g. 5 will be useful for 50% of the users.

Impact

To do this, you first need to define a goal and then rank the ideas according to the degree of impact they will have on achieving that goal. A five-step scoring system helps to measure this expected impact:

  • 3 = massive impact (XL)
  • 2 = high impact (L)
  • 1 = medium impact (M)
  • .5 = low impact (S)
  • .25 = minimal impact (XS)

Confidence

You can use confidence to score how confident you are in your achievement and impact estimates.

Estimate with 20%, 50%, 80%, 100%, where 20% = Moonshot; 50% = Low Confidence; 80% = Medium Confidence; 100% = High Confidence.

Confidence confirms or casts doubt on the estimate. You are only confident if you have data. Confidence scores help to make the assessment more data-driven and less emotion-based.

Effort

With effort, you can measure how much time the development of the feature will require from the whole team, and it ranks your ideas by the amount of time their implementation requires.

Learn more about the method and how to use it on StoriesOnBoard.

StoriesOnBoard

Build better products faster.
Get started with StoriesOnBoard today!

14-day Free Trial. No Credit Card Required.

Summary

Backlog prioritization can be difficult, especially if you, as a PO, lack experience and confidence. It may seem like there are too many methodologies, frameworks, models, and techniques to choose from, and on top of that, you need to agree on priorities with the product development team.

Hence it makes sense to rely on a lightweight, reliable solution that combines product discovery, backlog management, roadmapping, and support backlog prioritization in a single tool to guide you through the product development process.