Prioritization for Planning

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Successful Program-level planning depends on careful prioritization of the program backlog so that teams can focus on planning for items that provide the most immediate business value.

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Program backlog including epics, features and stories


Prioritized program backlog and list of top ten features

Effective prioritization is a prerequisite for success for the PI Planning Event.

In preparation for a collection of stories to be considered at the PI Planning Event, a prioritization of the Program’s backlog must be completed.

Successful program backlog prioritization relies on a number of techniques:

  • Prioritizing a “top ten” list: It’s not necessary to prioritize every actionable item in a backlog at one time. Instead, prioritization exercises should focus on identifying a “top ten” list of key features that should receive more detailed planning consideration, with less important items falling to the bottom of the backlog for future analysis and prioritization.
  • Use of relative prioritization techniques: It’s very difficult to accurately estimate effort levels or financial return for specific backlog items, particularly earlier in planning cycles when full decomposition and story-level analysis has not yet been done. Instead, relative prioritization techniques such as the Weighted Shortest Job First method allow program stakeholders to relatively rank stories against each other using size and business value considerations.
  • Clearly identifying business and architectural vision: Longer-term business vision and architectural strategy should be clearly articulated to all program participants throughout the program planning process and used as a consideration when ranking items higher in a backlog.

For more information about prioritization utilizing WSJF within the Scaled Agile Framework®, review the following abstract:

Common Pitfalls

Backlog prioritization efforts can go astray in a number of ways:

  • Focusing solely on business value: Prioritizing a backlog solely on the basis of Product Management’s perception of business value, instead of weighting by level of effort, risks missing out on identifying “short-term win” opportunities. Successful efforts involve implementation teams who provide some level of high-level estimation to guide prioritization.
  • Overplanning: Getting ready for a PI Planning event doesn’t mean exhaustive analysis of every item in the backlog, exhaustive story decomposition and acceptance criteria definition, or days of team-wide story pointing exercises. Instead, it’s important to prioritize a list of top ten features, and make sure those features have enough high-level definition for successful PI Planning to happen.


The program board is a critical tool for backlog prioritization. It should be visually organized, an easy way to see at a glance the features, dates, dependencies and milestones. The board itself can be anything from a large piece of paper or whiteboard at the front of the room with the teams utilizing color coded sticky notes or it could come in the form of a digital solution like the Program Board from AgileCraft or a JIRA board using JIRA Portfolio.