How do you prioritise items in the backlog?

Navigating the Maze of Backlog Prioritisation

Ah, the age-old question: “How do you prioritise items in the backlog?” 🎯

I’d be rich if I had a penny for every time I’ve been asked this. But jokes aside, it’s a genuine concern many agile enthusiasts share.

We’ve all been there – grappling with the tough task of backlog prioritisation. Let’s journey through this together, using some insights I’ve gathered along the way. πŸš€

Let’s break it down! πŸ“Š

Not My Role, But My Responsibility

Although, as a Scrum Master, I don’t actively engage in backlog prioritisation, instead, I play an instrumental role in steering the ship. I help the team harness the right tools, apply the correct techniques, and ensure they wield them effectively.

This distinction sometimes gets murky, especially when someone transitions from being a Project Manager to a Scrum Master. The shift from a Project Manager to a Scrum Master often blurs these lines, leading to confusion.

The key?

It is understanding and respecting boundaries. It’s the Product Owner’s domain to prioritise, while the Scrum Master’s realm is to facilitate and guide.

The “Gut Feel” Syndrome

While many Product Owners rely on their instinct or “gut feel” to prioritise, which also seems a good enough and more accessible route, this method can sometimes lead to debates rooted in subjectivity.

While it works for some organisations, in others, it could lead to aggressive and combative discussions, especially if decisions are influenced more by personal agendas than the product’s needs.

The Spreadsheet Magic

I introduce a more rigorous approach for organisations where the “gut feel” doesn’t suffice. Every product has a purpose, vision, and set of goals. πŸ“‘

I say, ‘Bring in a spreadsheet.’

The trick is to measure how our backlog items contribute to these. Look at the product vision and the organisational goals. What mattered yesterday might not matter today, and what matters today could change tomorrow. πŸ’‘

For instance, consider the metrics:

  • Customer satisfaction 🀝
  • Revenue generation πŸ’΅
  • Employee satisfaction 😊

Use data to measure these metrics. If you don’t have the exact data, employ tools like the Fibonacci series (multiplied by big numbers, just because big numbers are cooler).

This helps gauge the relative importance of each backlog item to these metrics. This structured approach can drastically cut down unnecessary debates.

Overlaying Knowledge & Insights

But prioritisation is just the start. Once we have the prioritised list, it’s time for the Product Owner and developers to sit down and strategise.

This isn’t about tossing the prioritisation out of the window but overlaying it with the knowledge that a simplistic approach can’t capture.

Can we group tasks to achieve efficiencies? Can we re-order items for a smoother workflow? The objective is to deliver the most important things quickly.

In Conclusion: Prioritise, Strategize, Deliver!

Backlog prioritisation isn’t a once-off task or just about ordering tasks. It’s about aligning and realigning the product vision, gauging its impact, and employing insights to deliver efficiently. πŸš€

And while, as a Scrum Master, I might not directly prioritise, I ensure the process is seamless, guiding teams to maximise their outcomes.

Interested in mastering this dance? Dive deeper with my Agile and Scrum courses and let’s fine-tune those agile moves together! πŸ’‘πŸ“š

author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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