Prioritizing your Backlog

on Jul 16, 09 • by Todd Landry • with 1 Comment

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been working on cleaning up our product backlog, and the one thing that I always find to be the most challenging is the prioritization. I’ve worked on a number of different products over the years, with a number of different teams, and have used a number of different methods ...

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve been working on cleaning up our product backlog, and the one thing that I always find to be the most challenging is the prioritization. I’ve worked on a number of different products over the years, with a number of different teams, and have used a number of different methods to prioritize a backlog, and I thought I would take a few minutes to share them with you now.

1)    Feature rating – This is the method where Excel really shines, because you get to create a cool matrix consisting of your features and a number of categories that are important (such as revenue generation, importance to existing customers, competitive differentiation, and so on). You then put a rating (usually 1-5, with 5 being the most important) in each of these categories for each feature…add them up, and the feature with the highest total becomes “most important feature #1”. Now, you can make this even more interesting by giving a weight to each category, to show which categories are the most important. So, for example if revenue generation is the most important factor in your company, then give that category a .5. Give your remaining categories a weighting, ensuring that the total weighting equals 1. This method can give very clear results, but can tend to be biased (I really like this feature, so I will give it a higher rating than this feature I don’t really like…)

2)    Baseline prioritization – In this method you pick a feature that you feel should be in a release, then compare all other features to this one. If any of the features are more important than that initial feature, then they become a higher priority, and conversely, those that are less important become a lower priority. I have found this method okay, but difficult to get a really good prioritized list…yes you get a list of the most important features, but not really fully prioritized list saying feature 1 is the most important, followed by feature 2, etc.

3)    Gut feel – This method is certainly the least scientific of the bunch, but it still relies on instinct, and can work well if you have a really good grasp of the market and your customer base. In the times I’ve done this, I’ve also tried to take the concepts of method 1 above, and apply that… so for example, Feature A has 6 different customers crying for this, will definitely generate more revenue, and further differentiates our product from our competition…sounds like our top feature for this release! This is the method that I find the most effective because you get to apply a number of concepts from a number of different methods.

There are a number of other methods out there that I haven’t used, so I would be interested to hear what experiences you have had with them, or with the ones I’ve listed above.

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One Response to Prioritizing your Backlog

  1. Sergey says:

    The “baseline prioritization” approach is just the first step of the “quicksort” algorithm. You split the original list into “higher priority” and “lower priority” sub-lists. If you do the same to the sub-lists recursively, you will have fully sorted list of features. (:

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