Measuring the Business Value of a PBI

I’m curious. What do you enter in the Business Value field? Take this PBI work item for example …


According to MSDN you are supposed to type a number that indicates the relative business value of the item.

Awesome. Are we talking about money? new customers? a percentage decrease in lawsuits? the number of new followers on Twitter? Sure. Maybe. The problem is that the field is numerical, so you can’t get real creative on what you type in the field. You also can’t combine scales. In other words, I can’t have some PBIs measured in $ value and others in smiles. The scale has to be the same, which usually means there is no scale and the field sits idle.

A more thoughtful answer that I’ve given to teams is to put in whatever numerical value you want, where higher numbers have more value than lower numbers.

Great, so we’ll just enter a number in from 1-100. I’m assuming we won’t be entering a 0. I’m also assuming that a blank just means that we haven’t assigned it a value yet. But if I’m the Product Owner, how can I tell the difference in value between a 65 and a 68? That’s a hard one. Maybe we can constrain the list a bit.

Enter the Fibonacci sequence? It works well as a scale when estimating the size of PBIs, so why not business value? If nothing else, it’ll create a spread of numbers with enough gap between them that a Product Owner should be able to differentiate the small, medium, and large value items more easily. Product Owners can even hand out the Planning Poker cards to stakeholders, and use them to estimate business value. Sounds weird, but it works, and it’ll give the Product Owner some input to consider.

You could even take it a step further and create a list of what the corresponding numbers mean. Here’s an example I used for a team recently …

  1 – Make existing users/customers happier
  2 – Make existing users/customers raving fans
  3 – Sell more goods/services to existing users/customers
  5 – Attract new users/customers
  8 – Fulfill a promise to a key user/customer
13 – Align with corporate/strategic initiative
21 – Regulatory compliance (go to jail if we don’t do this)

You get the idea. Also, the nice thing is that you can add values up. A new PBI might make existing users happier (1), attract new ones (5), and fulfill a promise to a key user (8) which sums to a business value of 14.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Also, I know that this is a favorite subject of my fellow Professional Scrum Developer and friend, Adam Cogan.


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