Product Owner Basics: Prioritization

For scrum product owners, there are multiple important considerations to have in mind, and high amongst them is product backlog prioritization.  Product prioritization is vital to achieving a scrum product’s objectives, and there are a number of scrum backlog prioritization techniques that product owners can embrace.  However, it is not a process that product owners can dive into; the process’ basics — including the reasons for it, how to approach it, and the results that can be expected — should be thoroughly understood in order to achieve the full potential of prioritization.

Reasons for Prioritization

One of the top, if not the top, reasons for product prioritization is to maintain a clear focus on the items to be delivered.  Of the product backlog items in any given sprint, some are not immediate and may not add significant value to the final product, nor are they necessary for the other tasks that will lead to the product end-goal; prioritization is ideal for targeting and weeding out such backlog items.  Prioritization would push these items to another sprint or eliminate them altogether, leaving the most pressing and valuable backlog items to be attended to in the sprint. Another core reason for conducting prioritization which relates to maintaining focus on the ultimate product is that the process assists in keeping on-track, in terms of the schedule.  By having a clear list of tasks to tackle — as achieved by the completion of a product prioritization session — the team will know exactly what to attend to, minimizing the risk of some members focusing on non-immediate tasks, thereby resulting in not having sufficient time to complete the vital tasks at the end of the sprint.

Another reason for conducting product prioritization is that it helps to reduce the risk of not meeting the requirements necessitated by the product’s business stakeholders.  Without product prioritization, tasks that address product risks and difficult product components may not be analyzed, leading to less time for the team to address those risks.

How To Approach It

The significance of product prioritization makes it such that Product Owners seeking to optimize the results of their project cannot forego the process.  It should be noted that prioritization is not a one-time occurrence. Each sprint should have its own product prioritization session. New requirements and backlog tasks, which inevitably emerge with each new sprint, require a re-ranking of priorities.  Each prioritization session should be approached in the same manner.

In prioritizing product backlog items, customer satisfaction, business value, complexity, safety, and effort for implementation are aspects of each item that should be considered.  In general, when approaching the list of backlog tasks, the Product Owner and teams should consider which tasks will result in features that will generate the highest business stakeholder and customer satisfaction.  Backlog items that will allow customers to realize a high return on investment should be at the top of the sprint’s list of tasks to complete. In ranking the items, it is also important to consider each backlog item’s business value.  Does the item provide a long-term business benefit, or does it provide an immediate edge over the product’s competitors? In either case, how the item ranks according to its business value depends on whether the product’s business stakeholders are aiming for long-term or more immediate results.  Product prioritization cannot be effective unless the Product Owner and teams also rank items according to how complex they will be to implement, how much effort must be invested in completing the item, and whether or not the backlog item relates to a product feature critical for the product’s function.

Once the backlog items have been analyzed from multiple angles, as discussed above, they can be ranked.  Teams can then self-organize in order to complete the tasks for that sprint. Note that the prioritized list is not to be set in stone — it alters as new, relevant customer information is gleaned or business stakeholders’ requirements change.

The Results

It can be expected that product prioritization will lead to teams completing more of the pressing tasks and remaining on-track towards the product’s final goals.  Teams’ efforts and time will be spent valuable in each sprint, attending to the most urgent tasks — those that will ensure the most success for the product.

Manoj Khanna

Manoj helps people and businesses to innovate, transform, and keep them ahead of the curve, as well as providing bespoke strategic advice to guide them through any challenges they are encountering. He has a proven track record of delivering top-quality guidance and knowledge to his clients, ensuring that they remain ahead of their competitors and at the forefront of their markets.