How to Do Backlog Prioritization Easily and Efficiently? 

In agile software development, the prioritization of the product backlog is a crucial aspect of the development process. By understanding which features to develop first and determining the order of tasks, teams can significantly influence the outcome of the product.

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

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

Backlog prioritization forms an integral component of a Product Owner’s responsibilities. As the primary decision-maker for the product’s key features and functionalities, the Product Owner or Product Manager plays a pivotal role.

The Product Owner and Product Manager must make the right decisions in setting priorities to ensure that the most valuable functionalities will be delivered within the agreed timeframe.

Before exploring various prioritization methods, it’s essential to grasp the concept of prioritization across different hierarchical levels:

→ initiative level
→ feature level
→ story level

In the following sections, we’ll delve into specific methods and techniques tailored to each of these levels, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of effectively prioritizing the backlog at every stage of product development.

What is a product backlog?

A product backlog in agile software development is a dynamic, prioritized list of features, functions, requirements, enhancements, and fixes that are needed for a product.

When a product team has a multitude of feature ideas or receives a high volume of user requests, the product backlog can become exceedingly lengthy.

This extensive backlog can have a detrimental effect on the team’s morale, often creating a sense of never being able to complete the workload. 😓🔄

Additionally, such a lengthy backlog can be challenging for the Product Owner to manage effectively. 📚🤯

To maintain a more focused and manageable backlog, it’s crucial to list only the top-priority tasks. For better organization and to avoid backlog clutter, larger feature ideas or broader initiatives should be plotted on roadmaps.

This approach helps in keeping the product backlog compact and manageable while roadmaps provide a clear and strategic overview of long-term plans and visions.

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 management.

What is backlog prioritization?

Backlog prioritization in agile software development refers to the process of ordering the items in a product backlog in a way that aligns with the project’s goals, stakeholder needs, and overall strategy. It is a key aspect of agile planning and execution.

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

Customer Satisfaction / User SatisfactionPrioritizing a more intuitive interface for a frequently used function in an app to enhance user satisfaction.
Business ValueAdding a feature to an e-commerce site for personalized product recommendations to increase sales.
ComplexityChanging the color scheme of a software interface, which requires extensive code refactoring.
Minimizing RisksAddressing a security vulnerability in a financial application to prevent data breaches and maintain customer trust.
Opportunity to Gain a Competitive AdvantageDeveloping a unique, AI-driven customer support chatbot to differentiate a service in a crowded market.
Time to DevelopQuickly implementing a feature, like adding social media sharing buttons to a blog page, due to short development time.
Cost to Develop and ImplementAdding a new, low-cost payment gateway to an online store to attract more customers, prioritized over more expensive features.
DependenciesPrioritizing a feature that depends on the completion of another feature in a software application.
Number of Users/Frequency of Users Affected by the ChangePrioritizing an update like improving the search functionality on a widely used public database due to its impact on a large portion of the user base.

How to prioritize a product backlog?

A product backlog item can encompass a variety of elements, including new feature requests, high-level initiatives, epics or user stories, bugs, design changes, change requirements, technical debt, and raw ideas.

The Product Owner or Product Manager usually makes the choices when deciding what to work on first in the product backlog. But they don’t do it alone.

People from different teams can give their thoughts, like those who sell the product or help customers. For example, someone in sales might say how a new feature could help sell more, or someone in customer support might point out what customers ask for a lot.

Backlog prioritization techniques

A product backlog item can encompass a variety of elements, including new feature requests, high-level initiatives, epics or user stories, bugs, design changes, change requirements, technical debt, raw ideas.

When deciding what to work on first in the product backlog, the Product Owner or Product Manager usually makes the choices. But they don’t do it alone.

People from different teams, like those who sell the product or help customers, can give their thoughts. For example, someone in sales might say how a new feature could help sell more, or someone in customer support might point out what customers ask for a lot.

ModelShort intro
Kano ModelThis method looks at what customers will love, need, or not care about. Use it when you really want to make customers happy with your project.
Opportunity ScoringHere, you score tasks based on how much they might help your business, like bringing in more customers or beating competitors. It’s good for projects where growing the business is a big goal.
Stack RankingThis is about putting tasks in order from most to least important. It’s useful when you need to be clear about what to do first, especially when time or resources are limited.
Priority PokerIn this fun method, team members use cards to vote on what’s important. It’s great for teams that like working together and want everyone’s opinion.
MoSCoW ModelThis groups tasks into “must-haves,” “should-haves,” “could-haves,” and “won’t-haves.” It’s helpful when you have some flexibility and want to balance really important tasks with nice-to-have ones.
Cost of DelayThis looks at how much money you might lose if a task is delayed. It’s best for projects where finishing tasks quickly can save or make money.
100 Dollar TestEveryone gets pretend money ($100) to spend on different tasks to show what they think is most important. It’s a quick way to see what the team thinks and is good for projects where you need to think about costs and benefits.

How to prioritize high-level initiatives or features

When it comes to product decisions and planning, the first crucial step is determining the next or quarterly goals. This practice is often adopted by teams because the business environment is dynamic and can change rapidly, making it essential to regularly revise and realign directions.

Typically, these goals encompass high-level initiatives, such as “developing a Jira integration” or “improving onboarding capabilities.”

The most effective way to organize and prioritize these items is by placing them on the product roadmap.

For an efficient prioritization process, we recommend using models like value versus effort or the RICE model (Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort). These models help in assessing the potential benefits and required resources for each initiative, ensuring a balanced and strategic approach to achieving key objectives.

Value vs. Effort

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.


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


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

RICE framework

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

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.


 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.


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)


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.


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.

Hints for effective prioritization

  • Involve a diverse team: Include members from development, sales, support, and other relevant departments for varied insights.
  • Define priority scores clearly: For example, ‘Effort S’ could mean 2-3 days of work, and ‘Value XL’ might represent a target of at least a 5% improvement in conversion rates.
  • Be open to changing priorities: Regularly review previously scored items to ensure they still align with current objectives and market conditions.
  • Align priorities with business strategy: Ensure that initiatives are in line with the overall business goals and customer feedback.
  • Incorporate customer feedback: Regularly integrate customer insights into the prioritization process to ensure that the product development is customer-centric.
  • Prioritize synchronous discussion: Avoid conducting these sessions asynchronously; instead, gather everyone for a live discussion to facilitate better understanding and collaboration.
  • Share the roadmap in advance: Provide stakeholders with the roadmap beforehand, giving them ample time to understand and think about the opportunities it presents.
  • Encourage new ideas: Allow team members to contribute their own suggestions and ideas to the mix.
  • Provide detailed descriptions: Alongside short goal titles, include a comprehensive description for each initiative, outlining the expected results of its completion. Encourage others to explain their ideas in detail as well.


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.