With products requiring ongoing additions and enhancements, product owners, product managers, and pretty much anyone who manages a backlog, can make good use of the right tools and methods to manage their backlog efficiency by standardizing the prioritization process.

Why you should prioritize your backlog

One common hiccup when it comes to managing product and other backlogs is feedback. Backlog management means getting the right feedback from many stakeholders across an organization, and more often than not, you can’t say yes to everyone's feedback. So how do you prioritize work?

Save your stakeholders

It’s important to ensure 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 let the loudest win

When ideas are being chosen, what might happen is that the loudest voice in the room gets to take over and promote their own; even when the idea isn't that great. Creative people don’t usually participate much in big meetings, but that 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 opportunities you should’ve looked into instead. Having the right process to prioritize tasks is key to ensure your time is well spent.

So how do you ensure your prioritization process isn't vague or 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, and less random approach; not to mention pave the way for a starting point with stakeholders.

Standardize your backlog prioritization process with custom or pre-defined prioritization techniques such as the RICE framework, ICE, WSJF agile etc., that use data metrics and real-time priority scoring.

We've used 'Navbar redesign', 'New issue detail' and 'Onboarding checklist' as priorities in every framework.

Value vs. Effort prioritization framework

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 this is, you can pretty much prioritize everything with it.

Value vs. Effort prioritization template with score and formula
Backlog scoring with Value vs. Effort prioritization framework

Value vs. Effort 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. Careful not to fall into the trap of underestimating tasks.

Value vs. Effort priority score
Your final priority score is calculated as: Value/Effort *10; the higher the score, the better but keep in mind that your score isn’t everything. You can also use a value vs. effort priority matrix to visualize your key priorities 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 prioritization framework: 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 prioritization method and formula
Scoring backlog with ICE prioritization framework

ICE 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 your task to implement? This is very similar to ‘effort’ in the previous Value vs. Effort template.

ICE 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 prioritization framework: 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.

RICE metrics
Metrics for the RICE method 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 and formula with RICE prioritization method
Scoring backlog with RICE prioritization framework

RICE 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 prioritization works better when you already have established products, given the method relies on customer usage data.

WSJF framework: 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 and formula with WSJF prioritization method
Scoring backlog with WSJF prioritization framework

WSJF 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 lose 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.

WSJF 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 your 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 prioritization bot

All of the prioritization templates mentioned 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 as you answer ten simple questions. You can try the Jexo bot for free.

Jexo prioritization bot helps you figure out the right prioritization method
Find the right prioritization framework with Jexo Bot

Foxly - Jira backlog management tool

When trying to introduce new prioritization templates and practices into your organization, you might find out that spreadsheets aren't exactly it for prioritizing your backlog. To better integrate the process into your team’s daily workflow, you might want to use the help of a backlog prioritization app.

Foxly is a Jira backlog prioritization app to help you better manage your backlog
Foxly - Jira backlog prioritization plugin

Foxly is a backlog management app that fully integrates with your Jira backlog and that you can access through your Jira project menu. It allows you to manage and update priorities in an interactive table, and visualize with a priority matrix that highlights quick wins. Foxly features the already-mentioned four prioritization templates and another designed to prioritize quick wins. Foxly also allows you to fully customize your own set of metrics and score formula.

Try Foxly for free by visiting the Atlassian marketplace.