How to Prioritize Software Engineering Projects Using ICE Scoring, Planning Poker, and High-Level Goals

Jason CaldwellJason Caldwell
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Prioritizing software engineering projects is critical for ensuring that development efforts align with business objectives and deliver maximum value. With numerous potential projects competing for limited resources, a structured approach to prioritization can help make informed decisions. This article explores how to prioritize software engineering projects using ICE scoring, planning poker, and alignment with high-level goals, such as OKRs.

What is ICE Scoring?

ICE scoring is a method used to evaluate and prioritize projects based on three criteria: Impact, Confidence, and Ease. Each criterion is scored using Fibonacci numbers (typically 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.) to align with planning poker estimates, and the scores are then combined to prioritize projects.

  • Impact: The potential positive effect the project will have on achieving business objectives or improving product performance.
  • Confidence: The level of certainty that the project will achieve the desired impact.
  • Ease: The level of effort required to complete the project, considering factors like complexity, time, and resources.

The ICE score is calculated using the formula:

ICE Score = (Impact * Confidence * Ease) / 100

What is Planning Poker?

Planning poker is a collaborative estimation technique used by software development teams to estimate the effort required for tasks or projects. Team members use cards with Fibonacci values to indicate their estimates, and discussion continues until consensus is reached. This method helps ensure that all team members’ perspectives are considered, leading to more accurate and realistic estimates.

The Importance of Breaking Projects Down into Small Pieces

Breaking projects down into smaller, more manageable pieces is crucial for effective prioritization and execution. Smaller tasks are easier to estimate, plan, and complete. They provide clearer visibility into the project’s progress and help identify potential issues early. Additionally, breaking down projects:

  • Enhances Focus: Teams can concentrate on one piece at a time, reducing complexity and preventing overwhelm.
  • Increases Accuracy: Smaller tasks lead to more accurate estimates and better planning.
  • Facilitates Progress: Achieving smaller milestones boosts morale and maintains momentum.
  • Improves Quality: Focused attention on smaller pieces often results in higher quality work.

Challenges of Impact Scoring and How to Achieve Good Impact Scores

Why Impact Scoring Can Be Difficult

Estimating the impact of a project can be challenging because it often involves predicting future outcomes and understanding complex business dynamics. Developers may struggle with impact scoring due to:

  • Lack of Data: Insufficient historical data or metrics to inform the potential impact.
  • Uncertainty: Difficulty in predicting how changes will affect user behavior or business metrics.
  • Complex Interdependencies: Projects may have interdependent factors that complicate impact estimation.

Tips for Achieving Good Impact Scores

  1. Leverage Historical Data: Use past project data to inform impact estimates. Look at similar projects and their outcomes to guide your scoring.
  2. Consult Stakeholders: Engage with stakeholders such as product managers, sales teams, and customer support to gather insights on potential impact.
  3. Use Proxies and Benchmarks: When direct data is unavailable, use proxies or benchmarks from similar industries or projects to estimate impact.
  4. Scenario Analysis: Perform scenario analysis to consider different potential outcomes and their probabilities. This can help in understanding the range of possible impacts.
  5. Continuous Feedback: Establish a feedback loop to continuously refine your impact estimates based on actual outcomes. Adjust future scores based on what you learn from previous projects.

How to Combine ICE Scoring and Planning Poker

Combining ICE scoring and planning poker allows teams to prioritize projects effectively by considering both strategic impact and practical feasibility. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to integrate these methods:

1. Define High-Level Goals and Objectives

Start by clearly defining the high-level goals and objectives that your projects should align with. These can be articulated through OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) or other key performance indicators (KPIs). Ensure that everyone on the team understands these goals and how they relate to the overall business strategy.

2. List Potential Projects

Create a list of potential projects or initiatives that could help achieve the defined goals. Gather input from stakeholders across the organization to ensure a comprehensive list.

3. Break Projects Down into Small Pieces

For each potential project, break it down into smaller, manageable tasks or components. This approach makes it easier to estimate, plan, and execute the project efficiently.

4. Score Projects Using ICE Criteria

Evaluate each project using the ICE criteria:

  • Impact: Estimate the potential impact of the project on achieving your goals. Consider metrics like user engagement, revenue growth, cost savings, etc.
  • Confidence: Assess your confidence level in the project’s success. This can be based on past experiences, available data, or expert judgment.
  • Ease: Estimate the effort required to complete the project. Consider factors like complexity, required resources, and potential risks. Use the results from planning poker to refine the Ease score in your ICE calculations.

5. Conduct Planning Poker Sessions

For each project, conduct planning poker sessions to estimate the effort involved. This collaborative approach ensures that all team members’ insights are considered, leading to more accurate and reliable estimates.

6. Calculate ICE Scores

Calculate the ICE score for each project using the formula:

ICE Score = (Impact * Confidence * Ease) / 100

7. Prioritize Projects

Rank the projects based on their ICE scores. Higher scores indicate projects with higher potential value and feasibility. Use these scores to prioritize the projects that should be tackled first.

8. Align with High-Level Goals and OKRs

Ensure that the prioritized projects align with your high-level goals and OKRs. Revisit your objectives and KPIs to confirm that the selected projects will effectively contribute to achieving these targets. Adjust the prioritization if necessary to maintain alignment with strategic goals.

9. Review and Adjust Regularly

Project priorities should be reviewed and adjusted regularly to reflect changes in business objectives, market conditions, and team capacity. Conduct periodic review sessions to reassess project scores and adjust priorities as needed.


Prioritizing software engineering projects using a combination of ICE scoring, planning poker, and alignment with high-level goals ensures that development efforts are focused on delivering maximum value. Breaking projects down into small pieces enhances focus, accuracy, and quality, making it easier to manage and complete tasks efficiently. By systematically evaluating projects based on their impact, confidence, and ease, and incorporating collaborative estimation techniques, teams can make informed decisions that drive strategic success. Regular review and adjustment of priorities help maintain alignment with business objectives and adapt to changing circumstances.