As products require ongoing additions and enhancements, product owners need tools and methods to help them prioritize more efficiently. Here, we look at the many ways you can manage your backlog efficiency by standardizing your prioritization process.

WHY YOU SHOULD PRIORITIZE YOUR BACKLOG

When doing backlog prioritization, managers tend to face common problems, one of which is getting feedback. It comes along from many stakeholders, all over the organization and more often than not, you can’t say yes to everyone's feedback; so how do you choose what to prioritize?

Save your stakeholders

It’s important to ensure that stakeholders feel included, that their thoughts and concerns do influence the priority session process; otherwise they may feel demotivated, and we all know the consequences of that, don't we.

Don’t let the loudest win

When ideas are being picked up, what usually happens is that the loudest person in the room gets to take over and promote their own; even when the idea is not that great. A lot of creative individuals don’t participate much in big meetings, doesn’t mean they don’t have something brilliant to add.

Avoid wasting time

If you end up building up on an idea that wasn’t exactly the best from day one, you’ll be wasting considerable time and money, and eventually missing on the big opportunities you should’ve taken instead. Having a proper prioritization process is key in ensuring your time is well spent.

So how to ensure your prioritization process is not vague and inconsistent?

STANDARDIZE YOUR PRIORITIZATION PROCESS

A great way to start fixing your prioritization process is by standardizing it. Prioritization templates allow you to create a repeatable, more transparent, less random approach to prioritization, not to mention pave the way for a discussion starting point with stakeholders.

We chose to prioritize 'Navbar redesign', 'New issue detail' and 'Onboarding checklist' here, but the same goes for all priorities.

Value vs. Effort

Value vs. Effort is the quickest and simplest prioritization process. It’s mostly fit for prioritizing new products, MVPs, personal to-dos or small backlogs, and can also be used to prioritize product feedback. Given how simple it is, you can pretty much prioritize everything with it.

Example backlog scoring with Value vs. Effort method and the formula
Backlog Scoring with Value vs. Effort Method

Metrics
There are two key metrics used when identifying priorities with the Value vs. Effort method; yep you guessed it, value and effort:

  • Value: when filling up your value metric, ask yourself the question; how does this contribute to my goal? Assign a numerical value for every priority, which will then be factored into your priority score calculation.
  • Effort: how difficult is it to deliver the task? Make sure to include the effort of everyone involved in the process, from research, to design, development, testing, and even marketing. Don’t fall into the trap of underestimating tasks.

Priority score
Your final priority score is calculated as: Value/Effort *10; the higher the score, the better. Keep in mind that your score isn’t everything; you can also use a priority matrix for a more visual approach, by placing ‘value’ on the x axis, and ‘effort’ on the y axis.

Priority Matrix

Value vs. Effort Priority Matrix helps identify quick wins
Value vs. Effort Priority Matrix
  • Quick wins quadrant: this is where your key priorities are given they require minimum effort to produce the highest value. Getting these quick wins out of the way will ensure fast progress on your project.
  • Time stinks quadrant: this quadrant features those priorities that require the highest effort while producing the lowest value. Proceed with caution when handling these priorities; they’re usually kept until the end or skipped all together.
  • Big projects: these take long to deliver but carry high value.
  • Fill-ins: these require low effort but also feature low value; they’re usually tackled in-between tasks.

ICE: Impact, Confidence, Ease

Initially developed for prioritizing growth experiments, the ICE method grew in popularity and is now used for prioritizing backlog and ideas. ICE is usually used by organizations that don’t have enough product usage data available.

Example of scoring backlog with ICE method and formula
Scoring Backlog with ICE Method

Metrics

  • Impact: how does this contribute to the goal? Assign a value from 1 to 10, where 10 means that the priority contributes 100% to improving your goal, be it customer retention, brand awareness or product quality.
  • Confidence: how confident are you that this is going to work and deliver the impact you assigned in your previous metric. Managers tend to be overly optimistic and so by incorporating this metric, you get a little closer to reality.
  • Ease: how hard is it to implement? This is very similar to ‘effort’ in the previous Value vs. Effort template.

Priority score
Once you’ve collected all the metrics, calculate your ICE score as Impact * Confidence * Ease; once again, the higher the score, the better it is.

RICE: Reach, Impact, Confidence, Ease

If you’re in a place where you can work out usage data or other customer insights, then RICE might be the best prioritization method for you. Developed by Intercom and used internally, this simple but powerful method helps remove bias from backlog prioritization.

Metrics
Metrics for RICE are very similar to ICE, but with one exception: reach. Reach allows you to bring actual product data and learnings into your scoring process by connecting every priority to the number of users it impacts.

In the next image, one of the priorities included is ‘navigation redesign’, which would end up impacting every user connected to the product.

Example of scoring backlog with RICE method and the formula
Scoring Backlog with RICE Method

Priority score
The final RICE score is calculated with the following formula:
RICE = Reach * Impact * Confidence / Ease.

You could say that ICE is better suited for new projects and MVPs, while RICE is better when you have already established products, given the method relies on customer usage data.

WSJF: Weighted Shortest Job First

WSJF is usually recommended for large projects or organizations that use scaled agile frameworks (SAFe). This method focuses on unidentified tasks that are most critical to reducing queues in projects and speeding up the delivery process.

Example of scoring backlog with WSJF method and the formula
Scoring Backlog with WSJF Method

Metrics

  • Business value: how does this impact your business? Assign a numerical value to the impact that the task would have on the business.
  • Time criticality: is there a fixed deadline? Can you loose customers should this task stay incomplete? This variable helps clarify deadlines, dependencies, and the risk of losing customers.
  • Risk reduction: is there a negative impact to delaying the task? This aligns stakeholders as to the negative impact on the business or goal, if the task is not completed.
  • Estimated size: how difficult is this task to deliver? Here, you clarify the size of the task and the speed at which it can be delivered.

Priority score
WSJF = Business value + Time criticality + Risk Reduction / Estimated Size. This equation helps you figure out which items to pick up first, so you can reduce the risk of delaying the project. This might not look as impressive when dealing with a couple of tasks, but imagine a backlog with hundreds of items!

USE PRIORITIZATION TOOLS FOR ASSISTANCE

Jexo bot

All of these prioritization templates might be a little too much to digest at first; which is why Jexo built a free prioritization bot to help you figure out the right prioritization method for your team, by asking 10 simple questions. Use this link to access the bot.

Jexo bot will help you find the right prioritization method for you
Find the Right Prioritization Method with Jexo Bot

Foxly

When trying to introduce new prioritization methods and practices into your organization, you might find out that spreadsheets are really not the best way to manage a prioritization process. To better integrate the process into your team’s daily workflow, you could use the help of a backlog prioritization app.

Foxly is a Jira backlog prioritization plugin that helps you manage your backlog
Foxly - Jira Backlog Prioritization Plugin

Foxly is a backlog prioritization app that integrates with Jira, and that can be accessed through your project menu. It allows you to manage and update priorities in an interactive table, and visualize thanks to a priority matrix that highlights low hanging fruits. Foxly features the already-mentioned four priority templates yet is fully customizable, so if you’d rather tweak the model or create it from scratch, you can.

Try Foxly for free in the Atlassian marketplace, by clicking here.