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November 05, 2021

How to effectively prioritize your backlog items?

Project Management Scheduling & Roadmapping Scope
BigPicture Team

A question as old as the idea of management itself – what needs to be done first? Queuing tasks in the backlog is as equally important as completing them. So, how to do it properly? What to look for?

Planning and prioritizing initiatives is one of the main challenges within product management. 17% of managers stated that the biggest challenge in their work, as seen in ProductPlan PM Report. 6% stated that managing the product backlog is the biggest task.

But before we dive in, let’s see what the backlog actually is. According to Scrum Guide, the Product Backlog is an emergent, ordered list of what is needed to improve the product. It is the single source of work undertaken by the Scrum Team. Items from Product Backlog, are considered ready for selection in a Sprint Planning event and can be done within Sprint.

Managing your backlog

To prioritize items in the backlog, you need to assign business value to each of those items. That’s where the whole process starts. There are many prioritization models available, and below we present the most popular ones in the world of Agile. 

The management world is constantly evolving, as people seek new better ways to keep up with work. No wonder there are so many ways to prioritize your backlog, so let’s see how we can maintain our tasks in neat order.

WSJF

One of these models is the Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF). It requires teams to work primarily on tasks and elements from the cheapest to the more expensive items to implement in the backlog. SAFe® states that WSJF is applied to prioritize backlogs by calculating the Cost of Delay (CoD) and job size. Cost of Delay is a way of communicating the impact of time on the outcome we hope to achieve and remains as one of the main metrics in the Agile approach. There is a constant update of the backlog based on such criteria as business value, time factors, risk reduction and opportunity enablement, and relative job size. These elements help us judge what is more (or less) important.

Impact Effort Matrix

Everyone likes visualization, so why not highlight the importance of our tasks? This method divides tasks based on two criteria: the level of impact and the level of effort. Tasks with a high level of impact and effort are obviously the major ones. High-impact tasks with low effort are regarded as quick wins, while low-impact tasks with the high effort required are thankless tasks, while low-effort tasks with low impact are fillers.

Impact Effort Matrix.

 

Kano Model 

In 1980, professor Noriaki Kano developed his own prioritization model. Kano and his colleagues laid the foundation by claiming that not all attributes of a product are equal. Instead, companies can break them down into different categories. Effectively, the essence of the Kano Model is to categorize tasks by the needs and expectations of customers. Consequently, the Kano Model recognizes five main categories of product attributes:

  • Must-be – what the customer expects to have within the product, not as a cool feature, but an obvious and totally standard element. Think of Bluetooth modules in smartphones.  
  • Attractive – something unexpected but eye-catching and totally voluntary. Customers may be happy with such a feature, but their opinion won’t worsen if it’s not there. To keep comparisons consistent, think of camera scanning in the newest smartphones.
  • One-dimensional – when we implement them, customers are happy. Without them, they’re not. Think of headphone sockets in smartphones. When producers ditched them, customers were not thrilled.   
  • Indifferent – tasks and features with no direct influence on customers. Think of better, polished, and more readable code in apps, that makes developers’ work easier. 
  • Reverse – it’s better to remove these features instead of keeping them. Think of the physical home button in smartphones – putting it today would be considered financial suicide or targeting a super-niche audience of physical button enthusiasts.

MoSCoW Method

MoSCoW is a well-known and popular method of organizing your backlog. A bit similar to the Effort Matrix. The principle is simple: we create four categories and assign tasks to them. The categories are: 

The MoSCoW Method.

 

Team Values

This method is more experimental than the previous ones and comes with some specific requirements. Namely, team members must be experienced and know each other well enough to trust in one another’s decisions. In that case, prioritizing by team values is leaving the backlog’s order to team members that rely solely on their experience and intuition. It’s pure Agile, as this approach is built on trust and communication, so why don’t you leave the backlog to the team? It may also serve as a great tool for bonding, and curating an even deeper understanding between individual team members.

Naturally, there are many ways to prioritize backlogs. Using the methods mentioned above can help in keeping the proper workflow during sprints, as well as understanding what tasks are more important than the others in a bigger spectrum. Optimizing a team’s workload may not be the easiest job, but it will bring much-needed business value.