Thursday, July 4, 2019

Classifying value by importance

As Product Owner, your responsibility is to order the Product Backlog by Value.
This may be really difficult when you're dealing with many different stakeholders who all consider their own few backlog items to be of utmost importance.

This simple model can guide your questions:

Three Importance Dimensions

The three dimensions Need, Want and Lack are all gradual - yet, for simplicity purposes, we'll just simplify them as "Strong" (inside the dotted circle), "Relevant" (within the dimension circle, but outside the dotted circle) and "Weak" (outside the dimension's circle). We'll leave it up to common sense how to interpret these terms. 
As a nuance, you can rank-order them by proximity to the center.

How strong is the need?

Based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, some features meet existential needs, others provide comfort or enjoyment. Arguably, you need to be in a pretty comfortable positon to value convenience.

Key questions
Which basic needs gets addressed?
What happens when no solution is provided?
Will there be loss of life, damage, squandered opportunity or merely inconvenience?

The bigger the need, the closer you would move to the center inersection.

How wanted is the feature?

Many features are highly wanted for a really short time, but like a snowflake, the demand melts off as fast as it appeared.

Key questions
Is the request just a spontaneous idea?
Has it been thoroughly pondered?
How much would you be willing to sacrifice to get it?

When customers are unwilling to sacrifice anything, not even a single cent, then it's not wanted - and if they'd sacrifice everything else get it, then it's really wanted.

How big is the lack?

Supply creates its own demand, but scarcity rules price.
As the old joke goes, a great salesman could sell sand in the desert - but that would be an utter waste of sales talent.

Key questions
How is the situation currently addressed?
Is a feasible solution already available?
How much better would that which we could provide be than status quo?

The more plentiful and cheaper available alternatives are, the smaller the lack - and the more costly an alternative is, the bigger the lack.

Ordering the backlog

The position of these items in our diagram can then be used to determine how we would arrange our backlog:

  1. Items in the central intersect of the diagram have highest importance and should come first. In this case, the exact order might be determined by other factors, such as WSJF or feasiblity.
  2. Items in dual intersects within the dotted circle will end up near the top of the backlog.
  3. Items in dual intersects outside the dotted circle will end up somewhere in the middle of the backlog.
  4. Items which are only in one circle can be deferred and moved to the bottom of the backlog.
  5. Items placed outside all circles warrant no further consideration and can be safely discarded.

Standard relevance

"But ... what about items with relevant need, lack and want, where neither is strong? They fit nowhere in the diagram"

Yes, the model doesn't really allow you to place them properly.
Just ignore the "Want" dimension and put them into a suitable dual intersect. It doesn't matter - because these items won't be on the top of the backlog, and the exact order of backlog items that won't be touched within the next couple of months is fairly irrelevant.


  1. I disagree with the first sentence, that a PO should order the backlog by value. While that is mostly a good idea, the Scrum Guide does not explicitly demand it.

    And there might be circumstances where for example urgency beats value. When someone wants a special ad included in the website that advertises an event in two weeks. This might not be of higher value than other PBIs, but maybe it is not too much work and in any case it is worthless if I include it in three weeks. So maybe the PO comes to the conclusion to do this now.

    Generally speaking, urgency and effort are properties that can have an effect on the POs ordering of the backlog.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Rainer!
      You make a valid point: both importance and urgency are relevant.

      This article doesn't address which of two important items is more urgent - it's just a filter to figure out what is not important.

      After you know what's important, you still need to sort by urgency.
      That is simply out of scope here.

      But why would you favor something that is needed, wanted and missing over something that isn't?