As a project manager or product manager, you know very well that juggling multiple projects and tasks can be quite daunting. The importance of knowing how to prioritize them cannot be overstated, if you want to make sure that you're working on the right ones!

But where do you start?

What you'll get from this article:

  • Industry-related prioritization frameworks that can help give value to your project
  • How to figure out the key priority factors pertaining to your specific project
  • How to create your own, custom prioritization technique with something called Weighted scoring prioritization
  • How to use a project prioritization cheatsheet to help simplify the process
  • Link to a super guide on product prioritization, with 15 existing prioritization frameworks to choose from
  • How to apply this in Jira

This article is based on our Co-founder, Nikki’s presentation during the PM72 Summit; here’s the video if you like:

What is backlog prioritization?

Backlog prioritization is one of the key tasks in project and product management but, often enough, it’s also one of the biggest headaches; especially when many people are involved in the prioritization process.

How do you know which tasks are bringing the most value to your customer? And if you’re dealing with a long backlog of items requested from various clients and/or stakeholders, how do you decide what to tackle next? Generally, how do you manage to build a bunch of feature requests while at the same, taking care of fixing bugs and managing tech with a limited amount of money, resources and time?

Backlog prioritization!

What is the backlog prioritization process?

Yes, many of us don’t know how to prioritize; and when everything is important, then nothing really is. So, to remedy that, and to usher in a prioritization process that will simplify our lives, we use prioritization methods.

Choose the right prioritization technique  🎨

The prioritization methods mentioned in this article are simple, and similar in essence; they all assist in calculating some type of priority score to help you decide on priorities.

Identify the prioritization factors  🎯

When you’re contemplating what prioritization method to use for your project, you need to identify the key factors which are important to your particular project; for example, effort, impact, costs, risks and so on.

Calculate the priority score  🧮

Once you’ve identified the factors, you then need to figure out how to calculate the priority score correctly, in a way that makes sense to you. When you’ve achieved this, you can start prioritizing the backlog.

Select the top priorities  🏅

When you’re done prioritizing the backlog, you’ll finally be able to identify the top priorities, i.e. the ones with the higher priority score!

The higher the priority score, the more important a task is

Use the priority matrix to visualize  📊

Finally, you can use a priority matrix for a quick visual of your priorities, so you may identify the ones with the highest impact! All you need to do is plot one of your chosen factors on the x-axis, and another on the y-axis, example: impact vs. effort,  to identify the priorities with the highest impact, but requiring the least effort.

How to choose the prioritization technique that fits best?

There are many quantitative methods to choose from; for the sake of what we're about to look into, we'll divide them into two categories.

Use a predefined method

These are great prioritization techniques that have already been used in many projects, in many companies; they’re reliable and simple given their generic nature. If you’re new to prioritization and want to get things running quickly, without having to think too hard about which prioritization method to use, use a predefined prioritization method.

Create your own prioritization framework

If you’re not in a hurry, and you’re eager to find the ultimate prioritization method for your project, one that will answer to your specific needs, then you can create it using a technique called Weighted scoring prioritization.

What you do first is identify the factors that are most important to your project and “weigh” them, i.e. give them a weight. This method is a little more advanced, so you’ll need time to prepare for it but what we did here is include a few examples of the key factors you could use. This will help speed up the creation process of your customized prioritization method.

What are predefined prioritization methods?

There are so many predefined prioritization methods out there; they’ve been used across a variety of projects for quite a while, which makes them reliable. In this article, we’re only mentioning 3 predefined prioritization methods but here’s a link to a prioritization guide, where you’ll find 15 of the most used prioritization methods (in detail).

IUE prioritization method

Meet the IUE prioritization method; it looks at 3 key factors: Impact, Urgency and Ease. Priority score calculation is actually very simple for this method; multiply all 3 metrics to get your priority score.

IUE prioritization: Impact, Urgency, Ease
IUE prioritization score

And in order to assess priorities, you can assign each item in your backlog, a number from 1 to 5 where 1 is smallest. Which means that if your task has, say, little impact, then you’d assign 1 to that specific factor. This prioritization method is also popular because you can combine it with a priority matrix called the Impact urgency matrix. You’ll be using Impact and Urgency metrics, plugged in a chart, to identify your quadrants: Do now, Do next, Do later, Do never.

Impact vs. Urgency matrix
Impact urgency matrix

GUT prioritization method

The next prioritization method is the GUT method; here you’re using factors like Gravity, Urgency and Tendency.

  • Gravity: what the effects of this task/project are; serious, not serious
  • Urgency: if the task can wait or if it has to be tackled right away
  • Tendency: if things are going to get worse fast; or if in the short/mid term, you’re ok; or maybe the tendency is zero, i.e. there’s no tendency for things to get worse, for example.
GUT prioritization: Gravity, Urgency, Tendency
GUT prioritization score

WSJF prioritization method

The last method we’ll talk about here is the Weighted Shortest Job First, a method they use in Scaled Agile or SAFe. The WSJF method helps you calculate and understand the level of the financial impact of not finishing a certain task, or for not implementing the solution sooner. If you work in a big organization, it’s likely you’ve been introduced to this method before.

WSJF prioritization score
Weighted Shortest Job First

In order to calculate the Cost of Delay and WSJF score, you’ll be assigning four metrics to your priorities:

  • Business value: how does it impact the business?
  • Time criticality: could you lose customers if you don’t finish on time?
  • Risk reduction: will delays have a negative impact?
  • Estimated size: how difficult will it be to deliver?

There are many predefined prioritization methods we didn’t mention here, like ICE, RICE, and Value vs. Effort, but we won’t go further than this. Instead, let’s look at how you can create your own prioritization method.

Customize your own prioritization method

The way to create your own priority scoring is by using the Weighted scoring method.

  • First, you need to identify the core factors typical to your project, then rank your core factors in order, as to give them importance in your scoring formula (“weigh them”).
  • Once you’re done with that process, you can then create your custom scoring formula.
  • And finally, you can introduce the new prioritization method to your team so you can tackle the backlog.
Weighted scoring prioritization
Weighted scoring method

Identify the core factors in your prioritization

A lot of people struggle with identifying the core factors when trying to create their own prioritization method, which is why we took a look at various prioritization methods used in a variety of projects and collected the factors in common. We then structured them into buckets, based on the different teams:

  • Effort and time
  • Team
  • Importance
  • Impact

So, when creating your prioritization method, you can pick up the factors in those specific buckets to include in your formula.

Effort and time priority factors

Factors to consider here are Story points, Effort, Ease, Timeliness, Tendency, Dependencies, and Cross-team collaboration.

Effort and time prioritization factors
Effort and time factors

Team priority factors

Employee satisfaction, Team health (does your task help with team health?), Motivation, Competency, Skills, Efficiency, and Confidence make up the factors in this bucket.

Time prioritization factor
Team factors

Importance priority factors

Many companies struggle with managing stakeholders; how do you go about creating different importance metrics for different stakeholders in different departments? You involve them in the prioritization process! 😊

Importance prioritization factor
Importance factors

You can include stakeholders from Sales, Tech, Product, Legal, Compliance, Sales ops, Solution engineering, Legal, and Business. Also, you can approach priorities by assessing necessity: Technical necessity, Business necessity, Legal requirement and so on.

An example of Legal requirement would be GDPR, something you simply cannot overlook if you’re developing software.

Impact priority factors

Is your vision impacted by the risks? Does your item align with team/company goals? Does it increase sales or customer satisfaction? Does it contribute to positive impact, internally or externally?

Impact prioritization factors
Impact factors

Impact priority factors include Impact, Sales increase potential, Vision risk, Goal, Risk reduction, Client satisfaction, Internal impact, External impact, Brand impact, Risk potential, and so on.

How to calculated a Weighted scoring formula?

Once you’ve identified the factors for your project, you can create your own priority scoring by giving said factors a weight. For example, use a range from 1 to 9, where 9 is highest; the higher the number (weight), the more important the factor is.

What is the formula for Weighted scoring prioritization?

Once you’ve decided on the weight you’d like to associate with each of your factors, multiply each factor by its weight, then add those numbers, and divide by the sum of all weights.

Formula for Weighted scoring prioritization
Weighted scoring formula

F = factor

W = factor weight (1-9)

n: total number of factors

Weighted scoring example

Let’s say you’re working on a project with a mostly-junior team with a mixed skill set. The team is quite new (i.e. you’ve never worked together before) and though you’ve got a senior person on board, it's still very possible that you won’t have enough capacity or skill set to deliver certain tasks. For this reason, we picked these specific metrics for the project:

  • Ease
  • Skills
  • Time sensitivity
  • Cross-team collaboration
  • Goal
  • Risk potential

It’s usually good to pick either Ease or Effort as a metric when prioritizing so you consider how long or difficult it would be to deliver something. Given you’re a new team, we added Cross-team collaboration and risk potential to ensure you identify the tasks that need Cross-team collaboration upfront.

Next, you add the weight to each of these factors (choose numbers between 1 and 9); the higher the number, the more important your factor is for this project.

  • Ease → 2
  • Skills → 3
  • Time sensitivity → 1
  • Cross-team collaboration → 1
  • Goal → 5
  • Risk potential → 4

Once you’ve got this, you can create your Weighted scoring formula, by multiplying each of your factors by its weight, adding them together, then dividing the total by the sum of all weights; in this case: 2+3+1+1+5+4 = 16

Formula for weighted scoring: example
Weighted scoring formula example

Prioritize your backlog with Weighted scoring

Now, you can use this Weighted scoring formula to prioritize all of your projects. When assessing priorities, assign a number from 1 to 5 to each of the factors; the higher the number, the better it is.

Here’s a worksheet you can download, with all of the factors we’ve described so far, as well as the Scoring formula, so you may create your own prioritization method for your project.

How to customize a prioritization framework in Jira?

You can use any tool you like to manage this process (including Excel) but if you’re interested in prioritizing directly in Jira, you might want to check out our app Foxly!

Jira plugin for backlog prioritization: Foxly
Foxly backlog prioritization tool

Foxly is a Jira app that helps you create and standardize your prioritization methods, while prioritizing your issues directly in Jira; where the work actually happens! Foxly comes with predefined industry standard prioritization methods like ICE, RICE, WSJF, Value vs. Effort and Quick Wins, but it also allows you to create your own prioritization method and customize it, just like this one here.

Customize project prioritization template in Foxly

You can use various styles for your metrics or factors like star rating or labels, which makes it easier for everyone to prioritize the tasks themselves, and create a scoring formula.

Prioritize Jira issues in Foxly

Once you’ve set up your prioritization method, you can then prioritize your issues in Foxly’s interactive table. Once all metrics have been assigned to the issues, the priority score is then automatically calculated. You can order your backlog, going from highest to the lowest priority so you may get quick access to the most important items first.

Customize priority matrix for Jira
Foxly priority matrix

Also, to bring another dimension into your backlog prioritization and give you flexibility in terms of data visualization, use the Priority matrix view. Here, you can choose the metrics you’d like to see on the x-axis and y-axis, and view your own quadrants. Not to mention, you also get a table under the chart where you’re able to view Jira issues that may be opened directly in Jira.