How to Prioritize Product Backlog: The Easy Way

Zigmars Rozentals
3 min readJul 12, 2018

Read this to learn the most trivial way how to prioritise your product backlog.

  • Product backlog priorities can be many and in conflict.
  • There are many advanced ways how to prioritise backlog.
  • Nicely ordered backlog does not make sense if you still don’t know what to implement next.
  • There is one simple question which works as the acid test for the top 1 priority.

Managing the product backlog by juggling conflicting priorities can be a hassle for any product owner. And yet they should know the exact place for each product backlog item on the list, so they are ordered in the right order. How to handle these product dilemmas and to build the right thing at the right time with maximised ROI?

Prioritisation methods

There are many methods how product managers/owners can prioritise features to order the product backlog:

  • Kano Model focuses on customer satisfaction.
  • RICE method which analyses reach (R), impact (I), confidence © and effort (E) so the most relevant features with the least efforts could be implemented first.
  • Ordering using the MoSCoW model where the acronym means “Must have,” “Should have,” “Could have,” and “Won’t have.”
  • Or simply order the product backlog financially taking the net present value, internal rate of return, and payback period as the three major factors to consider.

Although all these methods are brilliant and used by many successful product people around the globe (including me) there are times when priorities can be in conflict. If we had to choose between features “pay by card” and “display product image” we could say that they both are crucial for any e-commerce website thus they both should be moved at the top.

However the real acid test is the question —

if you could implement only one feature, which would it be?

Yes, it’s that simple.

Priority no. 1

In the example above we could even assume that some lousy webstore could not have product images, but it would be unthinkable if some web store had no way to take customer’s money.

So the product owner’s focus should not be on the right order for all 99 backlog items, but what is on the top. Which feature is the real game changer for the next release? Which is the feature without that the product would come out as a failure?

Yes, it is trivial and straightforward, but that’s the point.

To drive from San Francisco to New York all your focus should be on the next 100 meters, not the detailed specifications on how to move the steer and acceleration pedal at every single kilometre along the way.

So, there is a place for all the excellent prioritisation approaches, but there will be no point knowing the priority no. 25 if you would not know the priority no. 1.

Know your top feature for the next sprint.

That’s the top feature — without that your product is a failure

What are your practices of prioritisation?

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