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Agile Prioritization Techniques: 8 Models to Develop a Product

Explore 4 levels of prioritization techniques in agile development and 8 prioritization techniques that are best in 2023!

By Brier Cook  •   January 5, 2023  •   7 min read

Agile methodology was initially created for project management in software development. Now, more than twenty years later, companies across fields use agile approaches to solve problems, deliver feedback, and adjust scope as needed throughout a project’s life cycle. 

As you begin working towards new goals, prioritization is key! Read on to learn about different agile prioritization techniques, why they’re important, four levels of prioritization, and eight techniques you can use to deliver better service to your clients and customers. 

What are agile prioritization techniques? 

Prioritization is the process by which a set of tasks are aligned in order of importance. In agile development, establishing priorities helps employees accomplish work faster to deliver maximum business results on time. 

The main purpose of agile prioritization techniques is to allocate resources to the projects that matter. Because agile product development can be more complex than regular development processes, prioritization techniques can make entire projects run more smoothly. Additionally, agile techniques involve four levels of priority—urgent, high, medium, and low—which force teams to take things one important task at a time! 

Agile prioritization techniques help teams determine what tasks should be worked on first so the group can deliver a high-quality product with what limited resources they have at their disposal. 

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Why is the agile prioritization technique important? 

Each of us must decide what to prioritize in a variety of situations. At work, prioritization can help you tackle new challenges efficiently. Prioritization is important in agile development because it encourages you and your teammates to focus attention on a project’s main tasks.

Implementing agile prioritization techniques forces teams to move fast and innovate as they go. This encourages effective communication among colleagues, prompt feedback, and continuous testing to reduce risk, thus improving the overall quality of work.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”

— Stephen Covey, educator, businessman, and author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

4 levels of prioritization techniques in agile development

1Low

Low-priority tasks include issues like information requests and other “nice-to-haves.” These are the features that may make the final results polished, but they aren’t essential to the project’s overall success or rollout. For example, decorations are an obvious “nice-to-have” for a party, but they aren’t essential to celebrate a birthday or entertain partygoers. 

2Medium

Medium-priority tasks are things you’d like to get done but could live without at the end of the day. These tasks are non-critical to the useability of the final product. Let’s use the party example again. While it might make the party better, having a DJ isn’t something that will make or break your gathering, so it could be considered a medium-priority task. 

3High

High-priority tasks include things that aren’t absolutely critical but that you want to complete more than others. At a party, guests aren’t critical, but you probably really want to invite them. Therefore, delivering invitations could be considered a high-priority task. 

4Urgent 

Urgent tasks are the number one priority. These tasks aren’t up for debate because they may cause substantial loss, corruption of the system, customer issues, or total product failure if you don’t complete them. When planning a party, the most urgent task might be as simple as setting an alarm that reminds you that the party is happening! 

8 agile prioritization techniques 

1Stack ranking

Stack ranking or “forced ranking” is a technique that involves making a list of tasks or product features and ordering them along an axis according to a single criterion like importance, risk, or value. This technique is one of the best models to evaluate which product features are necessary and which aren’t for a product to succeed. The most challenging part of stack ranking is determining what features to compare with each other. It can be effective when trying to determine what deserves priority. 

2RICE method

The RICE method framework uses objective criteria to determine which items should be tackled first. Managers often use this model to decide which features, products, and other initiatives they should have their teams work on. Four factors make up the RICE acronym: Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. 

First, estimate reach by calculating how many people the final product will reach. Reach is measured in the number of people and/or events per time period. Then, determine what the project’s impact will be on a single person. Next, factor in your level of confidence about estimates. For example, you may think a task could have a massive impact but don’t have the data to back up your assumption, so confidence will let you control that. Lastly, determine effort by estimating how much work one team member can do in a month. Once you’ve estimated these factors, combine them into a single score you can use to compare projects at a glance!

3100-dollar test

In the 100-dollar test method, teammates assign a relative value to a list of items by spending imaginary money together. Each person receives an imaginary $100 cash to spend on specific priorities. All individuals then go shopping with their “dollars” and use them to “buy” the tasks that are important to them. The result is usually a well-spread priority list. Using the concept of cash can be more engaging than an arbitrary ranking system, making this framework useful for large groups with conflicting priorities! 

4Cost of delay

The cost of delay prioritization model can help you determine the amount of money you will lose if certain tasks aren’t completed or features aren’t available on a final product. This method can therefore help you and your team financially justify what you choose to prioritize. Using previously collected data, statistics, and your project budget, determine how much money the company would lose each day, week, and month by delaying specific tasks. Then, carefully plan out a schedule that makes the most financial sense.

5MoSCoW model

MoSCoW is an abbreviation for Must be, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have. Using this prioritization technique, determine your “must be” features that have to be included, “should have” features that should be included but aren’t critical, “could have” features that are nice to have but aren’t critical to the product’s functionality or operation, and “won’t have” features that the group has decided are unnecessary for the product. 

6Opportunity scoring

The opportunity scoring framework uses data collected from user research to help teams prioritize tasks and features to work on when developing agile products. The thought is that once a team identifies what features a customer considers important and unimportant, the group can determine priority tasks. For example, if you conduct a survey for prospective users of the new software you’re developing and realize that the majority of people don’t care for features you’ve planned on investing in, you can change your course of action. 

7Kano model

The Kano agile product development model helps teams prioritize features on a product roadmap based on the degree to which they are likely to satisfy customers. By considering actional product feedback from users during the development stage, a team can assess which features it needs to prioritize. Using the Kano model, the impact of each feature should be classified into one of three categories—must-haves, exciters, and delighters—to help gauge the significance of each potential feature. The three factors are often then laid out on a graph, with the X-axis and Y-axis determining the significance of each feature. 

8Priority poker

Priority poker is another tool used by development teams and other groups to make decisions about how and where to direct resources and efforts. Using cards, all members of a team rank the importance of a task or product feature anonymously without influence from others. In the same way one prioritizes big-ticket items that will lead to victory in a game of poker, this method can yield great results in a fun and collaborative manner. 

Parting advice

Establishing priorities is necessary if you want to complete everything that needs to be done for a project. Prioritization is helpful because it serves to help agile teams decide in what order work should be completed to maximize efficiency. Agile prioritization techniques push teams to give their attention to truly important tasks while moving the rest aside. 

The next time you’re struggling to determine what tasks or features to place at the top of your team’s to-do list, try one of these eight agile prioritization techniques.

“There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”

Brian Tracy, Canadian-American motivational speaker and author
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