How To Prioritize Features With Lean Thinking In Agile?

  • Scaling Agile
Created on :
February 11, 2013
Saket Bansal
Updated on :
April 5, 2023

A few weeks ago when I was delivering an agile workshop to one corporate batch, we were going through prioritization models , I was talking about Moscow and suddenly one of my students inquired me thus- do we have a lean model of prioritizing product backlog? This triggered a new thought process, and we listed lean principle on a flip chart and analyzed how they help us in prioritizing the product backlog.
Here is the gist of the discussion thus commenced-
Eliminate Waste : First we need to see the waste, do we have waste in the product backlog? The fact is most of the time we do have certain non value adding features which are recorded in the product backlog. These actually are an example of waste, which we need to remove from the product backlog. There may have one waste bin to keep such features which need to be reviewed after the cycle. However, keeping them in product backlog does not add value.
Amplify Learning : Can we prioritize few items which give feedbacks for upcoming work? Are you prioritizing the features which helps you in knowing the end user expectations better? Knowing end user expectations faster is amplifying learning about the user expectations.
Decide as Late as Possible : If something is not needed now does it requires attention ? Do you need to spit the stories which are not going to be developed in near future? Why do you prioritize feature which is not going to develop in next two iterations, let them remain in the backlog, let epics reside in your backlog. We should follow just in time i.e. not to anticipate which is not getting developed.

Deliver as Fast as Possible: Queing theory tells us that small batches move rapidly though system which leads to all good things. Do we have appropriately (INVEST) sized stories for upcoming iterations ? Remember, work in progress represents a risk while rapid delivery reduces risk

The whole point is- PO should visualize the complete system especially when the project is part of a big system under development, since the goal of development is to bring overall performance enhancement in the system. When you decide about the value of the feature, consider the whole system.


Following points can work as the Lean thinking in agile checklist for Product Backlog Prioritization

  • Do I have non value adding features in my Product Backlog ?
  • Can I prioritize some items to discover certain facts which can be of help in learning about the customer behavior , technical challenge or something which is critical to this project success
  • Decision making- Are you not making a decision which is not yet required to be made, are you making some decision which can be delayed without negatively affecting the product backlog
  • Are the product backlog items slicked appropriately , do they support fast delivery?
  • While prioritizing features for upcoming iteration are you considering the complete system view, not limiting your thinking to your own project. Are you prioritizing by thinking about all options