Priority pyramid

”Human beings want three things in life: sex, money and effective prioritization” – Jim Benson (author of ”Personal Kanban”)

I’ve mentioned it before in this blog, back in 2008 Corey Ladas (the author of ”Scrumban”) came up with the brilliant ”Priority filter”. It felt really good when I first read about it. But it could be something more, even more ”visible”. I came to think of a pyramid. With this concept in mind I contacted Corey.


With this blessing from the inventor of the ”Priority filter” I feel confident to continue.

Priority pyramid

What is the extra value the pyramid add? It gives hard boundaries that truly highlights the priority. Given the size of your pyramid and the stickies that you are using, there is a physical limit how many that can fit inside! You can use the priority pyramid as a visualized backlog.


The priority pyramid is divided into the following sections:

  • Priority one (P1) – At the top of the pyramid, with the highest priority. This is for ongoing tasks.
  • Priority two (P2) – In the middle of the pyramid. This is for tasks will be started as soon as resources become available
  • Priority three (P3) – At the bottom of the pyramid.This is for tasks that will be worked upon soon.
  • Rest of backlog – Below the pyramid the rest of the backlog is written. At this stage the tasks can be written directly on the whiteboard, or be lines on a printed list.

Also seen in the picture above is the WIP-limits (Work-in-Process limitations). Basically it is a limitation for how many tasks that can be present in the section at the same time. Looking at the example above it’s the figures within parentheses (i.e., 1, 2 & 4). Use an increasing sequence n x 2 for each underlying section in the pyramid. Starting with 5 at the top will give WIP-limits of 5, 10, 20, I think you get the hang of it.

Tasks flows from the bottom of the priority pyramid and upwards, as the arrow to the left in the picture indicates. When a task is completed it is moved to a ”Done”-area outside of the pyramid.

How to operate the priority pyramid

Looking at the picture above with the priority pyramid, let’s assume that the yellow sticky in P1 is completed and moved to done. Now a business decision needs to be made. Shall the green or yellow sticky in P2 be started (and moved to P1)? Since we haven’t made any premature decisions about priority, but instead waited until the very moment it’s needed, we usually have all the information at hand to make the best decision possible. Let’s say that the green sticky represents the most important task right now and it’s moved to P1. This is the only business commitment we make.

Now we make two more decisions, that are without commitment (i.e., can be changed later). We move a P3 task to P2, let’s say the red sticky. And we write a new sticky for an upcoming task from the backlog list. Next time a task in P1 is completed we repeat this procedure. This might feel cumbersome, and it’s true that you don’t want to have too small tasks (in terms of work effort needed). User stories represents a reasonable size of work effort.

Below is an example of a priority pyramid in full swing.


Blog post update:
Here are some comments from the Kanban community about the priority pyramid.


All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist


    1. Ok, now I got it. With System Improvements I mean things that will reduce technical dept. Maybe you are in a hurry and are forced to write messy code. To later go back and clean up that code falls under system improvements. Usually it is bugs filed by the developers themselves, things that they want fixed (i.e. not features or bugs found by customers).


  1. Thanks Tomas for your quick response, we are on the same page.

    All your articles are written with great thinking,Thank you for all your efforts.

    Wish you all the best in this 2016,



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