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Enterprise Agile Planning, Project Portfolio Management

Scrum: How to Prioritize Backlog Items

Published By Team AdaptiveWork

During a sprint planning session, items are chosen from the product backlog to be worked on in the sprint. However, not all product backlog items (PBI) are created equal, and the prioritization process for what will be chosen is essential for the smooth running and eventual success of the sprint.

PBIs that meet certain criteria get to be at the top of the product backlog, which teams refine by adding detail, estimates, and order to each item. This process of Scrum backlog grooming ensures that the most relevant, important and valuable PBIs are chosen for sprints.

The Scrum Backlog Grooming Process

The backlog refinement process is suggested to take between 5% and 10% of a sprint’s capacity, yet despite its integral importance for Scrum operations, is very often overlooked. All levels of the Scrum team are responsible for the refinement or grooming process, with the Product Owner having significant responsibility for initiating and defining the refinement of PBIs associated with their product.

The result of this process is that the most important PBIs are reordered to the top of the list. Also, each product backlog item is given greater definition and broken down into sprint-sized tasks. The natural result of putting greater effort into those PBIs which are ready to be added to a sprint is that the ones at the top are always smaller and more detailed, while the ones at the bottom are larger and haven’t yet been broken into tasks.

Always Keep Your Product Backlog Short

The product backlog is not just a place to throw up lightning flashes of genius that have no possibility of being acted on any time soon. Ensure that, as part of your prioritization and grooming process, only product backlog items which are likely to be addressed within 5 – 10 sprints are included. Keep a separate list for longer-term ideas that aren’t priorities.

Definition of Ready 

When a product backlog item has met all the conditions necessary to be moved to a sprint, it will gain a “Definition of Ready.” This means that after refining, ordering, detailing and estimating work for the item, the team deems it sufficiently sketched out – or “ready” – to be tackled in a sprint.

Focus on Delivering Business Value

Ultimately, all PBIs and tasks involved in sprints are about delivering business value for your organization. This is also a factor that should affect how a product backlog item is prioritized. To ensure fair weighting of the value delivered by a PBI (and thus its prioritization), an evaluation or scoring system can be devised, weighing factors such as Company Revenue, Customer Value or Alignment With Goals.

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Being able to rank potential PBIs with a weighted value system makes it a lot easier to prioritize which items should be moved to the next sprint.

Resource Availability

Certain product backlog items can only be completed with specific resources in place. For a project facing resource constraints (which is basically all projects), this means that PBI prioritization should take resource deployment into consideration. Often there must be a trade-off between what you want to be done and what can be done, where optimal use of resources is the deciding factor.

During the Spring backlog grooming process, a key tool for Agile project managers and Scrum Masters is having quality technology to help them out. To find out how Planview AdaptiveWork’s suite of project management software can help, get in touch with our team for a live demo.

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Written by Team AdaptiveWork