How do you prioritize features or user stories in a product backlog?

Mastering Product Backlog Prioritization: A Dynamic Approach

The art of prioritizing features, user stories, or product backlog items is a critical skill for any Product Owner (PO) in the agile development process. Given the dynamic nature of product development, where customer needs, market conditions, and technological advancements constantly evolve, finding the optimal order for tackling backlog items is both complex and crucial. This blog post delves into the multifaceted approach required to prioritize effectively, ensuring that the product backlog remains a tool that drives value maximization and risk mitigation.

Understanding the Forces at Play

Prioritization is influenced by a variety of factors, each pulling in its own direction. Recognizing and balancing these forces is key to effective backlog management:

Customer or User Value

The primary driver for prioritizing backlog items should always be the delivery of value to customers or users. Identifying what features will provide the most significant benefits or solve the most pressing problems is a foundational step.

Risk Mitigation

Identifying and addressing risks early in the development cycle is crucial. This includes technological uncertainties, feasibility concerns, and market-related risks. Prioritizing items that help clarify these uncertainties can save resources and prevent potential failures.

Technical Dependencies

Some features or stories can only be implemented after others due to technical dependencies. Understanding these relationships is vital for sequencing work in a way that is logical and efficient.

Synergies and Efficiency

At times, implementing one feature may make it easier or more cost-effective to introduce subsequent features. Recognizing these synergies can guide the prioritization process for greater overall efficiency.

Team Availability

The availability of key team members with specific skills can also influence prioritization. If a developer with critical expertise is scheduled for a sabbatical, it may be prudent to prioritize work requiring their input.

Embracing Complexity and Adaptability

The process of ordering the product backlog is inherently complex and non-deterministic. There are often several “good” ways to prioritize, and the goal is to find one that aligns with the current understanding of value, risk, and feasibility. This approach acknowledges that there is no single “correct” answer but rather a series of informed decisions that are made based on the best available information.

The Product Backlog as an Emergent, Ordered List

As per the Scrum Guide, the product backlog is not a static entity but an emergent, ordered list that evolves over time. This flexibility is a strength, allowing the PO and the team to adjust priorities based on new insights, feedback, and changing conditions around them.


Prioritizing the product backlog is a critical, ongoing process that requires a nuanced understanding of various factors influencing the product’s development. By considering customer value, risks, technical dependencies, synergies, and team availability, Product Owners can navigate the complexities of backlog prioritization. Embracing the product backlog’s dynamic nature allows for adjustments and refinements over time, ensuring that the team remains focused on delivering the highest value to users and stakeholders.

About Effective Agile

Ralph Jocham is a Change Agent in Scrum // Agile // Coaching // Evidence Based Management and also a Professional Scrum Trainer based in Europe.

As one of the first Professional Scrum Trainers in the world, Ralph has worked directly with cocreator of #scrum, Ken Schwaber, and has played an integral part in the course development of the #PSPO (Professional Scrum Product Owner) as well as the delivery of all certified courses.

If you’re looking to invest in training that transforms and empowers teams to successfully adopt #scrum or #agile, and create high-performance #productdevelopment environments leveraging the agile values and principles, visit our Professional Scrum Training page.

If you would like to work with Ralph and company as an #agilecoach, #agileconsultant, or powerful change agent to get your team back on track and on the road to high-performance #agile #productdevelopment, connect with Ralph Jocham.

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