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Ranking & prioritizing: Think small batches

As part of our efforts to embody lean and agile principles, we always try to limit how much we’re working on at any given time. Working in small batches and employing WIP limits not only focuses our attention on what’s already underway, but also helps us break down, prioritize and rank upcoming work.

In “Using Mingle for Product Management,” we shared how we use Mingle to manage our backlog by grouping stories into various categories such as “feature” or “theme.” We also explained how we organize by release (current, next, etc.) or tags (customer, team favorites, etc.). But what happens once you identify your next objective and, even more, how do you understand what to do first?

On the Mingle team, we tend to follow the following process during a group huddle with our Product Manager, BAs and XD:

  1. Break down the objective into specific stories (often guided by activity maps)
  2. Group these stories in three release priorities:
    • Must have
    • Nice to have
    • Can be dropped from scope
  3. Rank stories within each release priority
  • Ranking stories helps us understand the order in which we should play them. We normally determine rank based on the value the story will provide to users, what must be built first from a technical engineering perspective, or a combination of both.

Using the interactive drag and drop feature on our Mingle card wall, whose columns we order by “release priority,” we can prioritize and rank both quickly and easily. 


Grouping by release priority allows us to minimize the number of stories--normally no more than 15--that we rank at any one time. We’ve found that ranking any more is too difficult, not to mention inefficient. Our ability to compare stories diminishes as the number we’re comparing increases, as does our visibility of the context within which we’re ranking. As our Delivery Manager Scott Turnquest recommends, “try to avoid accumulating really large groups of cards. Smaller chunks are much easier to manage and much easier to focus on.” He also notes, “this takes active management on the part of the team.” But we have all found the most efficient and fulfilling way to work.

We apply this belief, that effective ranking is done is small batches, in Mingle Plus’ Program Backlog, which we’ve released in Mingle 12.4. Because ranking is relative, we think ranking becomes more efficient and accurate with fewer items. You’ll see that we’ve built the Program Backlog to focus attention on high-level, valuable objectives and to help you keep your backlog lean and healthy.

See how the newly-release Mingle 12.4 can help simplify ranking and prioritizing

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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