The Product Backlog is an emergent, ordered list of what is needed to improve the product. It is the single source of work undertaken by the agile team. Unfortunately, ordering Product Backlog items by their “priority” leads to suboptimal market value and reduced return on investment.
The Product Owner needs to consider the entire backlog when ordering Product Backlog items, to optimise value.
To prioritise a list means to order its items by their importance relative to each other.
Unfortunately, priorities drive pair-wise comparisons (by English language definition) of items on the list. Think of using bubble sort to prioritise the Product Backlog: compare the top two items and interchange them if they’re in the wrong order, and then move on to the next pair, and keep cycling through the list until everything is in its place. Prioritisation and sorting go hand in hand. All the comparisons are local. This process is analogous to local optimisation.
The ordering of the Product Backlog should be done in such a way so that it delivers against the commitment of the Product Goal.
The Product Backlog should emerge to define what will fulfil the Product Goal.
1. Overeem, B. (2017) Myth 5: In Scrum, the Product Backlog is prioritized.
2. Schwaber, K., & Sutherland, J. (2020) The Scrum Guide. The Definitive Guide to Scrum: The Rules of the Game.
3. Reinertsen, Donald (2009). The Principles of Product Development Flow. ISBN 1-935401-00-9.