5 Factors To Help Prioritize Your Scrum Product Backlog

By: Resalin Gurka | Nov 05, 2015 |  Article,  Product Owner,  Scrum

It’s been said that your product backlog is the ultimate to-do list. However, have you ever tried to complete a to-do list without prioritizing each task first? Or going to the grocery store without grouping items? You couldn’t pay me to go to a grocery store with a chaotic list…especially on a Sunday. Madhouse. This is where prioritizing your product backlog can help.having an unprioritized product backlog can feel a lot like a chaotic grocery run.

Smart and experienced product owners know that a product backlog without prioritization can lead to bad decision-making, wasted time, and can even breed distrust among the team. Don’t let this happen to you. Take heed of these five factors to help prioritize your product backlog. Because this is a post on prioritization, the factors are listed in priority order.

How does each item contribute to your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

What is the minimum viable product that can be shipped to customers? In terms of prioritizing your backlog, the keyword is “minimum.” While features may be valuable, it doesn’t mean they are necessary, and the distinction between the two becomes more important when you’re timeboxed with limited resources. Have an understanding of resources you have at hand and then categorize items into three buckets: Must Have, Nice to Have, and Won’t Have. You can also use the MoSCoW analysis and separate items into four categories:

  1. Must Have
  2. Should Have This If Possible
  3. Could Have This If Possible
  4. Won’t Have This At This Time But Would Like In The Future

[If you need some help with prioritizing your backlog, writing and breaking down user stories and estimating and managing releases, check out our CSPO training classes.]

Prioritize Your Product Backlog by Understanding the value of each feature

Each product backlog item should help solve a problem for the user. If it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t be on the list. Take some time to read through customer feedback through polls, surveys, or submitted reviews. By understanding what worked, what didn’t, and what they want, your product backlog will be one step closer to containing features that will add value.

After learning more about the customer, it becomes a lot easier to write user stories. A user story is a simple statement told from the customer’s perspective that explains why a feature would give them value. It typically follows this format:

As a <type of user>, I want <feature> so that <reason for that feature>.

User stories will ensure customer value is kept top-of-mind as you prioritize and later communicate your product backlog items.

Impact between each story

Symbiotic relationships between user stories affect prioritization. While grooming and prioritizing the product backlog is technically the product owner’s responsibility, it’s smart to utilize the Scrum Team to get a full understanding of the relationship between product backlog items. Having a thematic approach to your product backlog can also bring connections into sharper focus.

For example, imagine that your team has been tasked with building a mobile app for a restaurant and the owner wants customers to be able to easily make reservations online. One sprint could be devoted to building stories tied to the reservation feature, including building a database to hold repeat customer information, confirmation email for booking/cancellations, etc.


There are many different types of risk involved in software development and it’s critical to account for them when prioritizing the backlog. Perhaps they are tied to staff and experience, missing tools, or looming customer deadlines. There are also risks caused by the involvement of a third party, for example, government constraints and regulations that affect product build.


Related to risks, there are some features if built that could help prioritize features down the road. This is an example of validated learning where a feature becomes an experiment. The learning or “result” that comes from that experiment can help you make better decisions about other features.

In the real world, it can seem like the importance or prioritization goes right out the window. Everything is important, top priority, and must get done as quickly as possible, right? However, that just isn’t true. Have the discipline to prioritize your backlog on a regular basis for better work-life balance and better value to your customer. Sometimes, you just have to say “No” to get things done.

If you need some help with prioritizing your backlog, writing and breaking down user stories and estimating and managing releases, check out our CSPO training classes.

Do you have other factors you consider when prioritizing your backlog? Share by leaving a comment below.

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