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Prioritizing Your Product Backlog

7 Ways to Prioritize Your Product Backlog
Let’s talk tactics. How do you prioritize your product backlog today?

You most likely don’t have much of a choice if you’re busy, like most product managers are. You handle it as though it were a repository for all concepts, tales, requests for new features, issue fixes, and tasks pertaining to your product. After all, these things are always coming at you, so you have to catch them somewhere, right?

Before adding all of these product-related to-do items to the backlog, you probably don’t have much time to arrange them or, for example, balance the strategic importance of each task against the resources required to achieve it. Thus, if you’re anything like the majority of product managers that ProductPlan speaks with, you’ve probably discovered that your product backlog has turned into a void.

What Your Backlog Is (or Is Supposed to be)-and Why You Need to Prioritize It


But let’s step back: Why are you maintaining a product backlog in the first place?

Your product backlog should ideally consist of a list of all the tasks linked to your product that your team still has to do as well as everything that they should and can concentrate on (within a set amount of time) after that.
The items in your backlog, however, can easily become an issue once you go past that point—below, say, the second level of priority-because they bloat and clutter the list, making it more challenging to evaluate and arrange.

To avoid your product backlog turning into an endless list of every crazy idea someone has for it, it is crucial to prioritize your ideas. The items in your backlog should be prioritized for your team to work on in a way that makes sense strategically.

Hint: You know you have an issue when someone in your organization, including yourself, can suggest, “Let’s just throw it on the backlog,” and that sounds like a workable solution.
Product managers who are able to maintain organization and concentrate on their strategic vision are our passion at ProductPlan. Aside from inadequately implemented product roadmaps, we’ve discovered that inefficient backlogs frequently pose the greatest obstacle to a product manager’s capacity to effectively advance a project.


7 Tips to Prioritize Your Product Backlog

1. Determine a bucketing system for organizing items on your backlog.

Establishing categories for your backlog items can help you organize them more efficiently. It doesn’t really matter what you call these categories; the idea is to help you see clearly what has to be prioritized. Each sprint’s work is determined by the backlog, thus you need a system that enables you to locate specific items with ease.

Some example categories:

backlog categories

After deciding which categories your team will utilize, you can arrange and place the things in an orderly manner. Let’s examine how this may appear in real life:
Step 1: Organize backlog items by category

You can now quickly review the issues in the backlog while you plan the next sprint. You’ll be able to assess what your team can manage and what you need to get done. This allows us to state:
“Our goal is to deliver .

To do so, we must deliver these items. We have capacity for amount of work. So we are going to do _ in order to get there.”
You can then select your best items from your categorized list and include them in the following sprint. How to score these items and add them to the sprint backlog will be covered in more detail below.

Step 2: Pull backlog items into sprint workload

Ultimately, your sprint backlog might look something like this:

This system gives your staff the framework they require to feel powerful. Everyone feels better when your backlog is more organized since they can truly move forward and know what’s coming next.

2. Arrange the top items on your product backlog to represent your next sprint.

Putting the items at the top of the list in order of importance for your upcoming sprint can help you better organize your product backlog.

In this manner, you won’t be asking yourself, “When will we get to this?” every time you glance at the backlog. “When can we begin working on that?”

When you use this approach, the top tasks in your backlog have a built-in timeline—your upcoming sprint—in addition to being “top priority” activities without internal deadlines.
Naturally, you’ll need a process to decide what belongs in your team’s upcoming sprint; we’ll go over some suggestions for that below.

3. Don’t include any task lower than second-level priority on the backlog.


This is an additional straightforward method for figuring out what belongs in your backlog and what needs to be moved (maybe to a “Longer-term Tasks” file). Here’s why priority level two is a sensible cutoff point for items that end up in your backlog.
During brainstorming sessions, the team has been writing down 20 feasible product ideas on the whiteboard. Perhaps you have even thrown these gatherings. It goes without saying that you cannot implement all 20 of those ideas, at least not in the near future. What then do you do? You give priority to: Perhaps you choose the top two or four concepts and divide them up into assignments, plans, and stories that your group can begin working on.

You’ll document everything else on that whiteboard, of course, but you can’t put it all in your roadmap or, more impractically, your backlog. The backlog of products must continue to be as realistic and lean as feasible. It should list the items you have scheduled for your upcoming sprint as well as the second-level priorities that you want to address in the upcoming months. And that’s it.

4. Create a separate list for all of those lower-priority (or longer-term) ideas and requests.


You can limit the tasks in your product backlog to those that are very strategic or truly urgent by making a second list for less urgent product-related issues. This implies that it maintains the strategic value of your product backlog itself.
Because they lack a reliable location to record and store requests, ideas, and tasks, product managers who merely shove everything at the bottom of their product backlog complicate any further reviews and reevaluations of their backlog. Additionally, they increase the likelihood that, when reviewing their backlog, they will overlook something crucial.
Tweet This:
“Future reviews and reassessments of their backlog are made more difficult by product managers who merely shove every request to the bottom of their product backlog.”
In order to keep track of your product-related ideas that aren’t selected for the backlog, make additional lists. This might be a list of “Longer-Term Tasks” or a file containing “Great Ideas.”

5. Assign scores (or use some other quantifiable system) for determining each item’s overall value.
Our product roadmap app at Product Planet has a weighted score feature. We’ve discovered that product managers require a way to quantify (or “score”) the overall strategic value of each proposed feature or task against all of the others-that is, to ascertain which will give their product the greatest strategic advantage-when working with a limited amount of time, money, and development resources.

But you can, and should, take a similar system to score the benefits and costs of items on your product backlog.

We advise applying a scoring model to rank each item vying for a spot in your backlog. This scoring model can be based on ProductPlan’s recommended criteria, such as “Customer Value,” “Increased Revenue,” and “Implementation Costs,” or it can use a different methodology.

A few tasks will be added to your short priority one list, which will be worked on during the upcoming sprint. Some will advance to priority level two, which is scheduled for development during the next three months, approximately. You can locate everything else in your file called “Longer-Term Tasks.” However, after you’ve arranged your list in this manner, you’ll understand precisely why each item is on your list where it is. Additionally, you’ll be able to defend and explain your strategic thinking to other teams and stakeholders.

6. Figure out a point system for assigning time and development resources to each item.
One crucial consideration for each item in your backlog when it comes to prioritizing it is its estimated time of completion. This indicates not just the total number of developer hours needed, but also the identity of the specific developers and the duration of their work on the project.

Then you may want to turn these hours into points, or days, or half-days. Working on a particular story’s code, for instance, can take a whole day, which you might want to count as one point. This way, rather than saying, “This item should take one developer a half-day, and this one will probably take two developers an hour each,” it will be simpler to compare items in your backlog to one another and determine how much resources are needed more evenly across the list.
A word of caution: When estimating how many hours (and whose hours) an activity will take to accomplish, don’t forget to consider its “big picture.” Since you’ve set up your point system so that one point is equal to one developer day of work, you might presume, for example, that a bug repair is a half-point task. Although finding and fixing the problematic code that caused the bug might just take a few hours, this process also involves creating an automated test and running it. Therefore, you should be conservative when estimating the amount of time needed for a task—it is better to predict too much than too little.
Just a heads up: Not every point will be equal. It’s critical to keep in mind that each person of your team is distinct and has their own set of abilities, shortcomings, and strengths. For this reason, the backlog can be very significant in the planning meetings of your development and product teams. Assume that you have one or two developers who are qualified to work on a story or feature. As you allocate tasks for your next sprint, you must carefully estimate those engineers’ time (the “points”).

7. Re-evaluate the level one and two items on your backlog regularly.


Lastly, it’s critical to remember that your product backlog is a dynamic document with frequently shifting priorities. After all, if you’re implementing the suggestions in this piece, your team should be finishing off tasks from the top of your backlog at the end of each sprint. This implies that after each sprint, a certain percentage of the second-level items in the backlog will also advance to the on-deck position.
Check out the Declaring Backlog Bankruptcy blog post by Jim Semick.
Every item in your backlog now has a strategic rationale for being exactly where it is on the list if you’ve complied with all of our advice. Regularly going through that list will be lot easier for you. It will be possible for you to ascertain whether any fresh data-competitive intelligence, client requests, or just a hot, immediate fix-requires you to rearrange your priorities.

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