July 22, 2019

Project Management

5 Prioritization Techniques to Narrow a Product Backlog

By Pavel Kukhnavets

The challenge of product prioritization may lead to a constant headache for product owners. At the same time, properly conducted prioritization can easily become the light at the end of the tunnel and the main success factor for the rock-n-rolling release.

Product backlog prioritization is not only about making a stack of features in a certain order. This process contains juggling many stakeholders’ inputs and opinions.

The truth is – narrowing the list of product feature requests can be the most challenging part of a product owner/product manager’s job. However, let’s get everything in order.

Quick introduction to a product backlog

A product backlog is a set of items that should be done. These items should be ranked according to feature descriptions and broken down into user stories.

The Agile backlog gathers and prioritizes the task-level details on the strategic plan set forth in a product roadmap. It should communicate what will be next on the development to-do list of the team.

The well-prioritized backlog is aimed to make release and iteration planning easier and systemize everything the team intends to spend time on. The product backlog is the responsibility of the product owner who cares about content, availability, and priority of the backlog.

Why is it important?

  • Every feature can be estimated
  • It helps to plan the roadmap for the product
  • Helps to re-rank the features that influence on the product value
  • Helps teams to rank an item and then build value

Characteristics of a backlog

There is an abbreviation that combines similar characteristics of good product backlogs. This is DEEP:

  • Detailed appropriately
  • Emergent
  • Estimated
  • Prioritized

Here we will dwell on the last point – on how to make backlog qualitatively prioritized and how you can quickly achieve this.

Product backlog prioritization

One of the most essential concerns of product managers is keeping the backlog healthy and avoiding its rapid growth. How to know which item to work on next? What are the ways to prioritize a growing product backlog? Let’s find out.

5 proven ways to prioritize a product backlog

Popular product backlog prioritization techniques help product owners in defining what items the team should work on next.

These methods will provide your team with a clear focus, your clients with value, and your company with a great product.

In order to know as many techniques as possible, you may dive deep into some excellent prioritization guides, for example, Ultimate Guide to Product Strategy Planning and Prioritizing or 20 Product Prioritization Techniques: A Map and Guided Tour.

Here we briefly remind you the most popular five:

1. Kano Model

The Kano model is one of the most popular prioritization approaches. It was described in the 1980s by Professor Noriaki Kano.

According to this product prioritization framework, the features are categorized in compliance with the needs and expectations of clients.

The original variant of the model classifies items in the following way:

  • Must-be items that are expected by your clients. These features will not amaze them, they just must be included in your product.
  • Attractive items that make clients happy when they are there, but do not upset them when they are not.
  • One-dimensional items that make clients happy when they’re there and unhappy when they are not.
  • Indifferent items that have no impact on clients satisfaction level at all.
  • Reverse items that make clients unhappy when they are there and happy when they are not.

This model helps companies that tend to only do Must-be features. In order to succeed in business, you definitely have to deliver attractive and one-dimensional features as well.

2. Opportunity Scoring

The Opportunity scoring model (or opportunity analysis) is the prioritization technique comes from Anthony Ulwick’s Outcome-Driven Innovation concept. According to the famous author’s theory, customers buy products and services to get certain jobs done.

Their feedback is still important, even although they are not very good at coming up with the solutions to their challenges. The team will use their feedback to come up with the desired outcomes.

The Opportunity scoring approach uses two graphs to measure and rank opportunities: Satisfaction and Importance.

After completing the list of ideal outcomes, you will be able to survey your clients, asking them the questions:

  • How important is a particular feature?
  • How satisfied are they with the solution?

Then you have to plot their answers on the chart, that will give you the opportunity to see the features that matter the most to the clients but currently have low satisfaction scores within your product.

These items will be prioritized for your next sprint.

3. MoSCoW Technique

This model, described by Dai Clegg distributes its roots into Agile software development. By the way, there is nothing to do with Russia’s capital 🙂 MoSCoW means 4 prioritization criteria: Must Have, Should Have, Could Have and Won’t Have.

  • Must-Have criteria include the features that have to be present for the product functioning. They are always essential and non-negotiable.
  • Should-Have criteria combine requirements that are important to deliver, but not time-sensitive.
  • Could-Have criteria are about the features that are neither essential nor important to deliver. It’s always about bonuses that will improve customer satisfaction.
  • Won’t-Have criteria include the least critical features or requirements. They may be easily considered for future releases.

4. ICE Scoring Method

The prioritization methodology named ICE was first described by Sean Ellis. The ICE model was initially intended to prioritize growth experiments. Nowadays it is widely used for regular project ideas.

ICE stands for:

  • Impact: How impactful will a particular feature be?
  • Confidence: How will the feature prove our hypothesis?
  • Ease: How easily can we launch this feature?

This prioritization approach is used among product teams and startups all over the world. Applying the ICE model includes the formula that calculates the final score of the feature value:

Impact*Confidence*Ease = ICE Score

With this formula, you are able to represent your assurance in your evaluation by Confidence. The featured effect on the product is Impact. The easiness of implementation is Ease.

All you need then is to rate the entire feature request and choose the most valuable ones to implement.

5. Story Mapping

The Story Mapping technique has been first communicated in the article by Jeff Patton. According to this prioritization methodology,  a product backlog is not enough to prioritize the work. Jeff Patton thinks that in order to succeed, you need a more detailed structure. He proposes the following mechanics:

  • The horizontal axis where the sequence of use is visualized. The tasks are placed in the sequence in which they are performed by the client.
  • The vertical axis demonstrates criticality. The tasks are placed relative to how important they are from top to bottom. There are also equally important tasks that may be visualized at the same height.

Groups of related stories are grouped as activities.

The Story Mapping allows teams, partners and clients share a common understanding of what is happening. The technique defines how to gradually release product iterations.


A good idea is to bring and apply them all together. Be sure, if your backlog items are turning into a line, then you’ve got a green light to prioritize.

Prioritization is not a complex science, it’s just your helper to get things done. With some experience, you will find out the best product prioritization technique or combination of methods that work best for your product and team.

If you want to know more about product management software with build-in prioritization, you’ll find the insights in our future articles here. So stay in touch and feel free to share your experience related to the methods described.

Leave a Comment

We use cookies to personalize our service and to improve your experience on the website and its subdomains. We also use this information for analytics.

Got it!