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What are the most effective techniques for prioritizing a product backlog?

Mastering Product Backlog Prioritization

One of the most effective techniques for prioritizing a product backlog, unfortunately, is the answer to this question. Really, it depends. Because there are so many factors to take into account when prioritizing tasks, the context of your situation becomes paramount. Let’s dive deeper into how to effectively prioritize a product backlog.

The Difference Between Priority and Order

What we want to do is order the backlog. Priority is about getting the most important thing to the top of the list. Ordering a backlog is about delivering the most important thing soonest, and that is an important difference.

Using the MoSCoW Method

We kick off with priority, and you can use frameworks like MoSCoW:

  • Must: Non-negotiable tasks.
  • Should: Important tasks that can be let go if necessary.
  • Could: Desirable but not essential.
  • Would: Wishlist items for the future.

MoSCoW is a great starting point for categorizing work but leaves us with a pile of must-haves that need further refinement.

Developing Your Own Algorithm

Understanding Key Drivers

To move forward, you need to understand what’s important to your product. Identify key drivers—typically five or six—that define value for your product. These could be:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Revenue generation

For each item, assess its impact on these drivers. For example:

  • How well does it improve customer satisfaction?
  • How well does it enhance employee satisfaction?
  • How effectively does it boost revenue?

Scoring and Weighing Factors

Assign scores to each item based on their impact using a consistent scale. This could be:

  • Fibonacci sequence
  • Simple numeric scales

For instance, an item might score:

  • 3 for customer satisfaction
  • 8 for employee satisfaction
  • 1 for revenue generation

Combine these scores in a way that reflects your current priorities. If employee satisfaction is crucial at the moment, you might double its weight in your calculation.

Involving Stakeholders

Collaborate with your product owner and stakeholders to refine these values. The combination of scores should make sense and reflect the product’s current needs. This collaboration ensures that the final prioritization aligns with the broader goals and values of the organization.

Creating a Prioritization Matrix

Multiplying and Weighing Scores

You might multiply scores together or apply more complex weighting based on current priorities. The resulting matrix will show the value of each item.

Practical Example

Let’s say we have three items:

  1. Feature A:
  1. Customer satisfaction: 3
  2. Employee satisfaction: 8
  3. Revenue: 1
  4. Weighted score: (3 * 8 * 1) * 2 (for double weight on employee satisfaction)
  5. Feature B:
  1. Customer satisfaction: 5
  2. Employee satisfaction: 6
  3. Revenue: 4
  4. Weighted score: (5 * 6 * 4) * 2
  5. Feature C:
  1. Customer satisfaction: 2
  2. Employee satisfaction: 4
  3. Revenue: 5
  4. Weighted score: (2 * 4 * 5) * 2

The scores will help rank these features based on the calculated values.

Ordering for Effective Delivery

Involving Developers

Even with a prioritized list, you need to order tasks for efficient delivery. Developers’ input is crucial here as they understand the technical dependencies and can identify tasks that enable quicker delivery of high-priority items.

For example, if a simple task lower on the list enables quicker delivery of a top-priority feature, it should be moved up.

Balancing Priority and Practicality

Balancing priority and practicality often means reordering tasks. The goal is to deliver the most valuable features as soon as possible, even if it means addressing lower-priority tasks first to remove roadblocks.

Conclusion: Context is King

In conclusion, prioritizing a product backlog is as much about understanding your current context as it is about the tasks themselves. The methods and tools, like MoSCoW and custom algorithms, are flexible frameworks that must be adapted to fit your specific situation.

Key Takeaways

  • Prioritization vs. Ordering: Focus on delivering the most valuable features soonest.
  • Use MoSCoW: Start with basic categorization.
  • Develop Custom Algorithms: Tailor scoring systems to reflect your product’s key drivers.
  • Collaborate with Stakeholders: Ensure alignment with broader goals.
  • Involve Developers: Leverage technical insights for practical ordering.

By integrating these practices, you can create a dynamic and effective product backlog that drives value and meets your organizational goals. Prioritization is an ongoing process, constantly adapting to new information and changing contexts. Always remember, it depends.


  • Regularly review and adjust your prioritization approach.
  • Involve a diverse team to get well-rounded insights.
  • Stay flexible and open to changing priorities as needed.
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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