7 Tips for Valuing Features in a Backlog

Many product owners have a tough problem. They need so many of the potential features in the roadmap, that they feel as if everything is #1 priority. They realize they can’t actually have everything as #1, and it’s quite difficult for them to rank the features.

This is the same problem as ranking for the project portfolio. You can apply similar thinking.

Once you have a roadmap, use these tips to help you rank the features in the backlog:

  1. Should you do this feature at all? I normally ask this question about small features, not epics. However, you can start with the epic (or theme) and apply this question there. Especially if you ask, “Should we do this epic for this release?”
  2. Use Business Value Points to see the relative importance of a feature. Assign each feature/story a unique value. If you do this with the team, you can explain why you rank this feature in this way. The discussion is what’s most valuable about this.

  3. Use Cost of Delay to understand the delay that not having this feature would incur for the release.

  4. Who has Waste from not having this feature? Who cannot do their work, or has a workaround because this feature is not done yet?

  5. Who is waiting for this feature? Is it a specific customer, or all customers, or someone else?

  6. Pair-wise and other comparison methods work. You can use single or double elimination as a way to say, “Let’s do this one now and that feature later.”

  7. What is the risk of doing this feature or not doing this feature?

Don Reinertsen advocates doing the Weighted Shortest Job first.  That requires knowing the cost of delay for the work and the estimated duration of the work. If you keep your stories small, you might have a good estimate. If not, you might not know what the weighted shortest job is.

And, if you keep your stories small, you can just use the cost of delay.

Jason Yip wrote Problems I have with SAFe-style WSJF, which is a great primer on Weighted Shortest Job First.

I’ll be helping product owners work through how to value their backlogs in Product Owner Training for Your Agency, starting in August. When you are not inside the organization, but supplying services to the organization, these decisions can be even more difficult to make. Want to join us?

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Previous/Next Posts
« »


  1. New PM Articles for the Week of July 20 – 26 - The Practicing IT Project Manager - […] Johanna Rothman shares a few tips for product owners faced with ranking features in a backlog. This needs to…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *