Skip to main content

When your to-do list is long and resources are limited, the data-driven Weighted Shortest Job First formula can help you rank your tasks to maximize value and effort. Here’s how to put this framework to use.

What Is Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF)?

Weighted Shortest Job First, or WSJF, is a prioritization technique within the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). WSJF equips agile teams and product owners, especially those responsible for software development, with a method to assign higher priority to significant tasks in the product backlog. It takes the guesswork out of where to start and points you toward maximum business value in the shortest time.

To put it simply, WSJF uses a formula to help you use your time efficiently so you don’t get hung up in product backlog.

Stay in-the-know on all things product management including trends, how-tos, and insights - delivered right to your inbox.

Stay in-the-know on all things product management including trends, how-tos, and insights - delivered right to your inbox.

  • By submitting this form, you agree to receive our newsletter and occasional emails related to The Product Manager. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more details, please review our Privacy Policy. We're protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

How Is WSJF Applied In Product Development And Project Management?

When your to-do list is a mile long, and you have multiple features to develop, it's hard to decide where to start. WSJF ranks your tasks using a formula based on value and effort.

WSJF is one of many product feature prioritization frameworks you can use to streamline decision-making when you’re stuck in the product backlog, figuring out whether epics should be tackled now or later.

The WSJF formula integrates metrics like:

  • Time criticality: The impact of time on the initiative's business value.
  • Risk reduction and opportunity enablement: The economic benefit or potential pitfalls of delaying certain tasks.

How Is WSJF Calculated For Optimized Product Backlog Prioritization?

The WSJF formula factors in the Cost of Delay (CoD) and job size to determine which job you should tackle first. Let’s dive deeper:

1. Calculate the Cost of Delay (CoD)

The Cost of Delay (CoD) represents the value or benefit of completing a job. It can be broken down by various factors like business value, time criticality, risk reduction, and opportunity enablement. With WSJF, the CoD is divided by the job size or effort required to complete a task.

Cost of delay is based on the following factors:

1. Value (to the organization or user)

2. Urgency

3. To what extent the job reduces a risk factor or enables an opportunity

2. Decode the Job Size (or Duration)

Understanding a task’s size will help you maximize efficiency in sprint planning. The job size is an estimation of the effort, duration, and complexity required to complete a job – you can use story points or the Fibonacci sequence to determine how “big” a job is. You can also simply agree on a rating scale (say, from 1-20) or a series of criteria unique to your organization that enables you to agree on a job duration.

3. Use the WSJF Formula

WSJF Score = Cost of Delay (CoD)​ divided by Job Duration (or Size)

Once you’ve calculated the WSJF scores, you can prioritize tasks that promise the greatest return on investment with maximum value (CoD) for the least effort (job size). You’ll want to tackle the task or feature with the highest WSJF score first. 

The 4-Step Process for WSJF

To adopt this framework, you'll simply need to repeat these steps on an ongoing, cyclical basis.

  1. Data Compilation: Make sure you have all the data you need for each task.
  2. WSJF Calculation: Use the WSJF formula to determine scores for items in your product backlog.
  3. Roadmap Alignment: Use Jira templates or draw inspiration from Reinertsen’s ‘The Principles of Product Development Flow’ to map out your sprints.
  4. Evolve and Adapt: Regularly review and recalibrate your priorities.

With a feature prioritization framework like WSJF and handy product management software, your toolkit is ready to maximize business value, keep stakeholders happy, and enhance your product roadmap.

For more product management tips and tools, subscribe to The Product Manager newsletter.

By Hannah Clark

Hannah Clark is the Editor of The Product Manager. Following six years of experience in the tech industry, she pivoted into the content space where she's had the pleasure of working with some of the most brilliant voices in the product world. Driven by insatiable curiosity and a love of bringing people together, her mission is to foster a fun, vibrant, and inspiring community of product people.