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Prioritizing a Product Backlog

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

“Learn how to separate major from minors, a lot of people don’t do well simply because they major in minor things.”

In this article, we will be learning about ordering and prioritizing the backlog, why they matter, and different prioritizing techniques.

In our last article, we have already discussed in detail what product backlog is, if you haven’t seen it here is a brief definition of a product backlog. The product backlog is an ordered list of tasks to be completed as part of the product.

Different people in the enterprise will have different opinions about prioritizing the project creating a jumble within the product backlog prioritization exercise. A question arises then how to prioritize the product backlog? Before going to that we will first need to understand, what prioritization means?

Many consider prioritizing as a stack of items in a product backlog arranged based on business value. But while defining so they generally skip the term in prioritizing that is dependency, dependency on vendor schedule, a vendor working, the addition of items, etc. So in prioritization with business value, logical ordering of backlog items is also important. Both qualities included providing product stability and future evolution. As per the scrum guide prioritizing is a single component in ordering the product backlog. While prioritizing the items it is necessary to see what’s hidden from the eyes. While prioritizing items we must also keep ordering in mind. For example, while building a house; the roof seems the most important part as the house is incomplete without it. But foundation should be the priority as the order of building is also important. Even though we can’t see foundation but while prioritizing its order comes first as there will be no strong base without it for a roof. To have a product with minimum viable functionality we need both prioritize and order items.

The epic level items are so large in numbers to be ordered it is necessary to first split the product backlog and then order and prioritize them.

Why Prioritize?

  • To manage resources effectively

  • It helps in easily defining the business value of the feature in a product

  • Defines the urgency of feature to be delivered

  • It provides a clear idea about opportunity enablement and risk reduction

  • Defines the effort or complexity required in features development

How to Prioritize the Backlog?

There are various prioritization techniques their implementation success depends on the nature of the product they are applied. With changing the prioritization criteria their techniques also change. With keeping it in mind today we will learn about the two techniques in detail both of which are mainly based on relative estimation. Where items are compared on basis of the similarity of their complexity.

Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF)

Product backlog

This is the most certain used technique in prioritization. It includes criteria like opportunity enablement, risk reduction, urgency, and development effort. This criterion helps in deciding the score which further helps in deciding the priority. A higher score means a higher value of a feature. This technique uses a Fibonacci sequenced scale. In it, all feature items are estimated in four categories as mentioned above. Then the number is assigned in every category for items based on the Fibonacci scale. The first three category addition defines the cost of delay(COD) divided with the fourth which is development effort. Then the estimation is calculated based on the numbers assigned to each item representing their WSJF score.

T-Shirt Sizing

As the human brain is not designed for accurate estimation but designed to relate the sizes, shapes, feeling, things, and emotions, etc. This comparative and relative nature of our brain helps us in this technique. In this, we will divide the product backlog items or tasks into two forms, business value and development effort, and mark the t-shirt sizes like XS, S, M, L, XL based on business perspective and development perspective respectively in both forms. Once done we will find the most similar and easy to complete task from the list the product owner will find the quick win from them for prioritizing. This technique helps us achieve the benefit of easing estimation of sizes and also helps in attaining the consensus. While implementing this technique product owner must ensure to order the items in the best way providing the business value.


Once the prioritization is completed we move a step closer towards releasing the plan. Here the statement, “ key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your prioritize” needs to be understood and move forward with the development of the prioritized items in a product backlog.

About Advance Agility

We, at Advance Agility, are the new-age Agile Coaching, Consulting and IT services company. We enable end-to-end Digital Transformation. Agile execution is integral to our being. We are doing SAFe implementation with small, medium and large organization across the globe. Our vision is to be the leading Agile execution player globally. To keep adding value at every process stage. We are on a mission to empower our clients, move from concept to cash in the shortest sustainable lead time by adopting human centric approach to business agility. Embracing the change is in our DNA. Things that keep us apart are Quicker and Seamless execution with End-to-end gamut of services. Our Global presence and Stellar Track Record give us an edge over our competitor.

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