Product Prioritization: Stacked Ranking

Using rankings to facilitate discussions

Welcome to ‘Product Prioritization’ — our series of tools, tips, and best practices for the skilled Product Manager to determine priorities and get results. Each month, we will highlight one of the dozens of popular methodologies and explain how to use it.

For our second installment, we take a look at stacked ranking, first popularized by Jack Welch at GE in the 1980’s.

At Left Travel, we use stacked ranking when our team is looking for a quick and dirty list of priorities. Whether it’s a list of high-level sprint goals or which beer to buy for beer-o-clock, we’ve found this works best if the items in the list aren’t too complex.

What is stacked ranking?

A widely used prioritization technique, stacked ranking is used across multiple industries. At its most basic level, stacked ranking is the act of taking your list of items (ideas, stories, epics, etc.) that needs prioritization and ranking them from the most important (top of the stack) to the least important (bottom of the stack). That’s it — easy right?

The answer is yes and no. While the prioritization technique is simple in practice, it relies on qualitative data and opinions, which may not align with user value.

Tips and Tricks

1. Question the order:

Whether you created the list, or you’re reviewing it, it is important to ask questions about the reasoning behind the order of items to avoid bias.

Questions to consider:

  1. Why is the top idea the most important?
  2. Why is the bottom idea the least important?
  3. How much more/ less important is the idea in the middle than the top/bottom idea?

2. Rank individually, discuss together:

To avoid opinions being swayed during your team’s initial stacked ranking process, have each team member rank the list on their own and then compare the results. When there are differences between the lists, encourage a discussion to discover why.

At Left Travel this has led to great collaboration and knowledge sharing, particularly when someone on our team specializes in a certain data set.

By using stacked ranking, team members feel empowered to give their opinions on the ordering. When the team comes together, it makes for an insightful conversation about why there are differences between everyone’s ranks.

3. Get feedback:

Due to the opinion based nature of stacked ranking, it is important to solicit feedback from a wider group than your immediate team. Try circulating the list to other internal peers and stakeholders and ask if they feel differently about the ranking. Driving discussion is a quick way to get feedback and help mitigate opinion bias.

4. Individual use:

Stack ranking is great for prioritizing individual daily tasks that feed up into your larger company objectives. Online product management tools like Trello and Asana are helpful platforms to share your individual task list with your team.

Brent