Backlog prioritization is a bucketing system that helps developers become more agile during their development sprints. Backlog prioritization helps developers understand which things need to be done immediately and what is the value of that in a quick, brief, and sometimes in a visual way.

The idea of prioritizing tasks based on their business value and priority stems from the concept of being agile in your workflow. Working in sprints, constantly getting feedback, reevaluating your present actions while responding to change. All of these principles are an integral part of the Agile Manifesto. In this article, we would dive a bit deeper into backlog prioritization. How can we benefit from it, how to do it on a higher abstraction level, what are the various methodologies and a brief breakdown of those, and what are the necessary tools to do so. 

Let’s jump in!

The benefits of backlog prioritization

There are quite a few benefits of organizing your tasks more efficiently based on the return and importance of the same. eLearning course development teams, eLearning agencies, L&D professionals, bulletins, and magazines classify backlog prioritization for the eLearning development process differently. But broadly, we can classify them into two chunks.

The benefits for the eLearning course development team

  • Efficient planning – while strategizing sprints for the development process, it is crucial to have your priorities sorted.
  • A better idea of what to pick up and what to drop.
  • Motivation – it is easy to measure your work’s impact with backlog prioritization as you get focused on certain tasks. When the developers get to understand the impact they are making on their learners, they will get positively motivated.
  • Helps the team become more agile – backlog prioritization is based on dealing with important things first. The importance of those elements is determined from external reviews, which is one of Agile’s core values.

The benefits from the business perspective

  • Faster ROI
  • Better business value – higher customer satisfaction. The pain points received from the clients are given more importance.
  • Better management of dependencies
  • Reduced risks – backlog prioritization removes the guesswork of what needs to be done next. The next task is already on the board, and it is there because it was proved to be important.
  • Efficient resource allocation – instead of putting all of your eggs in one basket, backlog prioritization lets you spread your resources equivalently based on the tasks that need to be accomplished.

How to prioritize your backlog for the longer run

To some extent, most of the development teams know how to prioritize their tasks and whatnot. Although there are different metrics, factors, and parameters that govern their backlog prioritization for eLearning development. 

Rather than focussing on simple factors like, “check if the task will give you financial returns” it is more ideal to approach it on a fundamental level. Sometimes the things which are not exactly highly prioritized will be next month but then it would be more critical than assumed. Below are some fundamental concepts that development teams can use to paint a picture for the long term.

Take a step back and look at the big picture

Sometimes it is easy to observe things from a higher level of abstraction rather than looking at the immediate conditions.

For example, if you are building an eLearning course for a younger age group, it is wiser to invest in visuals rather than just create detailed documents.

Tag your actions and effect

How does your current developmental path improve the outcome? If you add more assessments, does it make the learners pay more attention? How does the end result vary if you add more videos instead of 1-on-1 sessions?

For example, if the eLearning course is about important data and privacy, the learners will pay more attention if there is a detailed case study.

Pay attention to both internal and external factors

External factors are the one which is decided by your clients and the outcome that they target. These external factors will help the eLearning course development team understand their user’s needs and restrictions better.

For example, for an eLearning course, it could be deadlines, cost cap, and expectation of higher employee motivation.

Internal factors are solely dependent on your team. These factors will help the team understand their own limits. Understanding these factors help the team grow faster by focusing on the pressure points.

For example, how many financial resources you have, how many developers you could afford, what are the tools that you use.

Qualitative and quantitative aspects

These aspects are very personalized as they depend on all of the internal and external factors. Ideally, everyone wants to hit the maximum on both but in reality, cutting corners is sometimes important for sustainability.

For example, if adopting a new authoring tool will give you huge ROI but at present, you don’t have enough clients to make that a reality, sit on that. Simultaneously, if you create a not-so-good draft of a course because you always deliver quicker, it will not have a desirable effect on your organization’s ratings.

How many courses does your team make in a specified time? Qualitative. How well do they achieve their desired goals? Qualitative. Ideally, all of the development teams want to amp up both. However, backlog prioritization helps in understanding what is important should be focused upon immediately. For instance, if your present customers/clients have given you the perfect ratings, it could be a good decision to think about expanding your production capacity.

Backlog prioritization methodologies

There are a lot of backlog prioritization methodologies that are preferred by L&D professionals across the board. A lot of the developers and the senior management often wonder, which one is the best. First of all, is there a best? Maybe. The strategy that we, at zipBoard, would recommend to develop your own. The easiest and simplest way to develop your own custom backlog prioritization methodology is by understanding the ones already in practice.

Below we have compiled the most popular backlog prioritization methodologies which will help you understand their pros, cons, and the methodology itself.

Stack ranking

It is one of the oldest models, if not the oldest backlog prioritization model. Stacked ranking is an internalized prioritization system. Here experts within the team rely on their experience and existing data to create a list that will help the team work faster. Sometimes the upper management and the stakeholders join the experts to make the list.

Pros:

  • Can be made really quickly and saves a lot of time
  • Easy to follow as it is just a list, essentially
  • Widely used, so a lot of documentation and “how-to” guides are available
  • The least financial investment goes into it

Cons:

  • Not exactly agile, as the list is followed by the employees after it’s been made
  • It is only based on the experts’ opinions
  • Other team members rarely take part in making this list
  • Irresponsive of changes

Kano Model

This qualitative aims at the highest level of customer satisfaction. The elements in the backlog are prioritized into five buckets: Must-have( non-negotiable from the customer’s perspective); Attractive(users are happy when this is present but not unhappy when it’s absent); One-dimensional(happy when present, unhappy when not); Indifferent(no effect on user satisfaction); Reverse(presence makes the users unhappy and absence makes them unhappy).

Pros:

  • Aims at customer satisfaction.
  • Each task is directly connected to its effect.
  • Tracking the effects is quite easy through a questionnaire.
  • Classification of tasks is done through external reviews.

Cons:

  • No prioritization within a classification.
  • Could be time taking depending on the size of the team.

MoSCoW model

This model has its roots in Agile product development methodologies and is product-driven. This bucketing system classifies tasks on the basis of their impact on the product’s release. Must-have(product can’t be released without it); Should-have(it is desirable to have but will not affect the product’s release); Could-have(these features could be incorporated into the product but, still not mandatory for the release); Won’t-have(these features have a detrimental effect on the product’s release).

Pros:

  • Helps deliver the product faster.
  • Makes the product development process agile.
  • Tasks are prioritized and based on resources they can change.

Cons:

  • Generally designed for product development.
  • Gets tricky when lots of customers and stakeholders are involved
  • Targeted for small-scale, internal development.

moscow vs kano

Cost of Delay

Donald Reinertsen, a lean leader, has emphasized the importance of quantification of “cost of delay” in backlog prioritization. The concept that drives this form of backlog prioritization is the amount of money lost if the product is not delivered on time and the spotlight is put on the features that are responsible for it. Below are a few ways in which this method of prioritization works.

  • Linear: For example, if a certain eLearning course development teams function in traditional workflow, they will lose some to those who employed agile in eLearning development.
  • Fixed date: For example, the requirement of an eLearning course about workplace safety should be delivered as soon as possible after the engineers join the site. Any amount of delay will cause a significant loss.
  • Intangible: For example, fixing a bug on the surface does take care of the symptom but not the cause. It may work temporarily but the cost of delay will exponentially increase in the later stages.
  • Expedite: For example, if the learners of an eLearning course give feedback that the audio quality of the course is making it difficult for them to go through it, it should be fixed immediately. These are the issues that demand instant action.

Pros:

  • It puts a number for everything in the backlog prioritization list.
  • Easier to reduce financial loss.
  • Very useful metric while developing a competing product.
  • Helps allocate resources effectively.

Cons:

  • “Cost of doing the task” is not taken into consideration.
  • Doesn’t directly focus on customer satisfaction.
  • Things change or take place only if they have a financial significance in the market.

Net Present Value(NPV)

Take an example of an eLearning course development team that is building a course for IT professionals about “information security”. Creating animated videos, which will help the learners understand the course faster will increase the cost of development by $10,000. However, the success rate and business value of course of that course would be higher, as compared to, say, simple infographic videos even though the latter would cost less. In a scenario like this, the present value is weighed against the expected return. This predictive financial analysis helps the eLearning developers create the backlog efficiently.

Pros:

  • Proper resource allocation and investment.
  • Takes the investment into consideration too.
  • The market value is the driving factor in this form of backlog prioritization.

Cons:

  • Could be challenging in a volatile market.
  • Pivoting is sometimes difficult as the initial investment is done.

ICE prioritization

The idea described by Sean Ellis will require you to calculate the ICE score per idea:

  • Impact: How much an idea affects positively or negatively the outcome if it is executed as planned?
  • Confidence: How sure are you of the predicted outcome based on your analysis?
  • Ease: How easy is it for the team to implement the idea?

ice prioritization

Pros:

  • Simple implementation as long as the scoring stays consistent.
  • Helps the development team to prioritize their backlog based on impact and resources.
  • Efficient resource allocation.

Cons: 

  • Difficult to choose between two ideas having the same score.
  • Importance of the parameters: impact, confidence, and ease are personally defined.

RICE prioritization

This method of backlog prioritization helps efficient teams to improve their matured products. It has a more systematic approach and an advanced scoring system.

  • Reach: How many learners are going to be affected?
  • Impact: How it will affect their target performance metrics?
  • Confidence: How much the developers can lean on the research conducted?
  • Effort: How many resources will be expensed?

RICE Score = (Reach*Impact*Confidence)/Effort

Pros:

  • Prioritizes learner’s satisfaction.
  • Efficient resource allocation.
  • A consistent metric system that everyone can easily.

Cons: 

  • Cannot be used in any scenario.
  • Depends on certain predictions which may not be accurate.
  • Parameters’ importances are individually determined.

Story mapping

The story mapping backlog prioritization technique has two axes that help developers manage their backlogs easily. In the x-axis, the sequence of the tasks which are performed by the client and the y-axis determine the importance of the same. The importance of the tasks determined the stacking of the tasks under a particular activity.

Pros:

  • Puts the spotlight on the customer journey.
  • Can also be used to create a new product strategy.
  • The whole picture is always visible and helps to understand the importance of a particular task or sub-task in the entire journey.

Cons:

  • Time-consuming and does have multiple iterations.
  • It’s a bit difficult to do online because of its inclination towards the details.

Opportunity scoring

This outcome-driven backlog prioritization methodology focuses on two important metrics: satisfaction and importance. Based on how satisfied the end-user is with a parameter of the current solution and how important that particular parameter is to the overall success of the same determines the prioritization.

Pros:

  • Focuses on the needs of the customer.
  • The backlog prioritization is aimed at improving the product’s business value.
  • Helps to find existing voids at the current solution.
  • Can be used in different fields apart from development.

Cons: 

  • Dependent on market research.
  • Not ideal in developing new products.

Creating a customized backlog prioritization method

Why create a customized process instead of just picking one?

Deciding which task is important in the developmental process to depend on the following factors:

  • Organization: The mission and vision of the organization. What is it aimed at and who decided the path till there?
  • Internal teams: How do the teams operate? Waterfall or agile or anything else?
  • Product and strategy: What is the product that has come to existence? How will it improve in the coming days? What is the strategy around it?
  • Resources: Time, money, and professionals that are working on the project determine how resourceful a team can be.

All the above factors and many more dictate how the backlog prioritization process proceeds. Picking one off the shelf can definitely work in the short term, but of course, in the long term, an organization or a team needs to find its own formula. The concept of “one-size-fits-all” is a mirage.

Understanding existing methodologies

The above listing will assist you with getting acclimated to the parameters to focus on. Also, different backlog prioritization methodologies are used in different conditions. Taking a closer look at each of the methodologies available will help in understanding which sets of parameters to focus on based on the stage you are in.

Understanding existing techniques of backlog prioritization will help you get familiar with everything that you have in your bag. Resources, products, customer base, and many more. Getting familiar with the matrices that are used for backlog prioritization is extremely useful too.

custom backlog prioritization method

Above are only a few of the many types of classifications that an eLearning course development team can do in order to create a tailored backlog prioritization method.

A general rule of thumb is to use a backlog prioritization tool after you carve out a strategy. Ideally, the tool should be visual, economical, easy to use, and could be integrated into the existing workflow quickly.

Choosing a visual backlog prioritization tool

Your skills are as good as your tools. If you aim to create a great backlog prioritization methodology for your current team and project, you will need to use tools that are up to the mark. There are a lot of tools that do the job and only a few of them have been doing it well. Below are three of the best backlog prioritization tools that the eLearning course development teams can use for maximum efficiency.

Kanban

Kanban is a SCRUM tool that helps the collaborators work visually. Kanban boards are a great way to classify tasks based on priority, type while putting them in different department buckets. In one glance it also provides a lot of details about a particular task including, priority, type of task, current status, who is working on it, etc. Because of its visual nature, Kanban boards can be used for Story Mapping, MoSCoW, and Kano Model of backlog prioritization.

kanban prioritization
  • Kanban Board for Story Mapping: Across the board, there can be the important steps of the customer journey. And under each class, there would be a prioritized list of tasks.
  • Kanban Board for MoSCoW Model: In the x-axis, there can be the MoSCoW’s elements and in each of the buckets, there would be tasks/elements of focus.
  • Kanban Board for Kano Model: Quite similar to MoSCoW’s application.

Task Manager

A good task managing tool will help all the collaborators make sure that they are not stepping on each other’s toes. Task managers contain important details including priority, type of task, relevant files, details of the task, who the task is assigned to, deadline, and many more.

A consolidated list of tasks gives the entire team who is doing what. As a result, there is no confusion in the air about who is doing what.

Messaging

Effective messaging tools keep the communication asynchronous. This helps to keep the email list clear and concise. Moreover, if there is one centralized place where all the collaborators can communicate with each other it will be an overall efficient process.

sending messages in zipboard to clients, collaborators and team members

zipBoard has proved itself time and again as a visual review tool, and a visual bug tracking tool. It has been also used as a backlog prioritization tool by many eLearning course development teams. Kanban board, Task manager, and a Messaging tool, zipBoard has it all. Sign up and try zipBoard free for 15 days and take your backlog prioritization to the next level.

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