Product backlogs are a primary component of an organization’s agile product development since it contains items you must address at a specific point.
Creating a new product begins with the idea that allows a team to build something special. Even the iPhone first came as a prototype and made its path towards popularity, thanks to their dedicated team.
While managing a team, as a product manager, you must stay organized with crucial to-do lists. Well, it is not as easy as it seems.
Maintaining a to-do list and deciding which one to do first is a way difficult task. And when there are multiple stakeholders, it becomes even more overwhelming.
As a result, organizations lose much time and resources.
This is where product prioritization makes all the tasks simpler and helps you maintain your to-do list properly.
In this article, I’ll discuss product backlog in detail, its typical elements, benefits, and more.
What is a Product Backlog?
A product backlog is a list of prioritized features or work items that help you meet your product goals and set valid expectations among developer teams. In simple words, each product in the development phase has a dedicated product backlog.
Similarly, every product backlog has a dedicated team. In general, there are several product backlogs with several teams working on a larger product.
For example, let’s name a larger product as ‘Product’ and smaller products as ‘Product A’, ‘Product B’, and ‘Product C’. Product A, Product B, and Product C have their own product backlog and particular teams for development. Each designated team works on smaller products to finally build a larger product.
Thus, it can be defined as a prioritized list of the work which is derived from the product roadmap and its requirements for your development team. The most essential items are on the top of the backlog so that development teams know which one to deliver first.
However, a product backlog is a live document that allows product managers to acquire a greater understanding of typical problems and the solution required to deliver the product.
Who Prioritizes Backlog Items?
A product backlog is owned by a product owner or product manager. A product owner is responsible for backlog maintenance, while other team members contribute their effort and time to product development.
Thus, the primary purpose of the product backlog can be:
- Developing a ground to align teams and stakeholders so that development teams implement valuable user stories
- Offering flexibility to adapt to the realities and needs
- Enhancing the efficiency of product release forecasts using a common denominator across various teams to stick together to a single product.
Typical Elements of Product Backlog
A product backlog includes bug fixes, features, knowledge acquisition, and technical debts. These items are distinct pieces of major work that needed to be delivered for product completion.
#1. Bug Fixes
Defects and bugs are the problems that are discovered by the end users, which are escaped during the quality control process. If the bugs are not resolved within time, it tends to accumulate over time.
Your team addresses bug fixes quickly to maintain product integrity. Some bugs are essential enough to interrupt the team’s current sprint, whereas others can wait for the next sprint. It remains at the top of the product backlog so that the development team never forgets about bug fixes.
A feature is a function of a product that the users find valuable. It is also known as a user story. Features can be complex or simple. However, to understand the user’s needs, you need to create a story map.
The origination of requests for new features is from different sources. Features include product management, support, sales, end users, and more. Prioritizing new features can be difficult as you will need to balance the competing requirements of:
- Keeping previous customers satisfied
- Meeting term sales opportunities
- Working toward a higher vision of the product
The product manager monitors these sources and resolves conflicting requests. Routinely doing so will allow you to ensure that the product backlog has new features that can attract customers and make existing customers happy.
#3. Knowledge Acquisition
Here, you gather information to complete future tasks. Importantly, knowledge acquisition is a research stage. When you detect a feature that requires more research, you can create a knowledge acquisition task, such as a proof-of-concept, experiment, or prototype. This will help you get the information to start your work on the feature.
#4. Technical Debts
Technical debt is like financial debt. It accrues interest when you ignore the debt. This happens when developers push this stage to the bottom of the backlog, then it becomes harder to accomplish.
Effective management of the product backlog can prevent technical debt. When your development team stays organized with the list and takes on the technical job in daily or smaller increments, you’re less likely to see increased interest in the work.
Technical debt is the result of change based on the following:
- Scalability and performance expectations
- Scope and direction
- Technology and best practices
Product Backlogs: Benefits
A product certainly represents feedback from different sources, such as salespersons, developers, and, most importantly, users. You must be ready to take their feedback, manage it, prioritize it, and work on it thoroughly for future product delivery.
Without a proper process, it becomes challenging to develop your product. Thus, a well-managed and well-processed backlog will help you focus on the product and lead to a more efficient team.
Let’s discuss the advantages of maintaining a product backlog in an organization:
- Improved focus: Product backlog helps you focus on important tasks and lets you avoid distractions.
- Enhanced efficiency: Prioritizing items ensures that your team works on the tasks thoroughly, leading to better efficiency.
- Better risk management: Product backlog can identify and address risks early in the development process, making the management risk-free.
- Better customer satisfaction: The end users’ satisfaction is your primary goal. Hence, backlog prioritization is essential for an organization to make them happy by checking what is necessary to add or remove from the product, making it a valuable product for your users.
- Increased communication: Product backlog encourages collaboration and communication between your team, resulting in better focus while developing a product and better outcomes.
- Improved team morale: Product backlog provides a purpose and a sense of direction for the team, leading to enhanced morale.
- Promotes flexibility: Product backlog changes according to the developer’s progress and task completion rate. When the development of product status changes, the product manager re-prioritizes tasks. This flexibility is needed to avoid voids in working hours.
Apart from this, you can find a lot of benefits, such as the fastest return on your investment, improved customer satisfaction, minimal risks, and more.
How to Create a Product Backlog
The product owner has the whole responsibility of prioritization tasks. To create a well-managed product backlog, you need to follow these steps:
Step 1: Adding Ideas to Product Backlog
The product backlog is a list of ideas. It contains the statements or feedback given by the team members, stakeholders, and customers. In a simple way, you need to add ideas to the list after discussing them with stakeholders, teams, and customers about an existing product or a new product.
Initially, you will have only limited ideas, but during the development process, you will get new ideas, keeping in mind the market relevancy and competition of the product.
Step 2: Getting Clarification
Once the stakeholder needs some changes to your addition or fixing of the product, it is important to clarify it beforehand. The product owner must clarify the following basic points to understand the importance of addition:
- The reason behind the fix: This indicates what the problem actually is, how it was caused, and how to solve it.
- The value it contributes: The team analyzes whether the new addition will help contribute to the whole product and enhance quality. The addition must increase the product’s value. Thus, it results in an increase in business value and better returns on investment.
- The item specification: The specification must be clear from the product owner’s end so that developers never find any difficulty during the development process.
Step 3: Prioritization
Once everything is in line, the product owner’s responsibility is to prioritize backlogs from the highest to the lowest priority. This stage is based on the strategic analysis of the information. Having a well-managed list could enhance communication among different teams.
The product owner prioritizes the backlog items based on specific criteria:
- Revenue: Any feature or item that can lead to better income should be kept on a high-priority list.
- Market uniqueness and fix: If a feature you decide to add is unique in the market, you are likely to stand out in the market. Also, you need to see whether an existing feature can solve users’ problems, as that’s the actual goal.
- Complexity: Before prioritizing backlog items, you need to check the complexity of the proposed feature along with the time it may take for development and release.
Step 4: Update Product Backlog Routinely
The product backlog is a living document that needs to be updated timely by the product owner. The process of refining, prioritizing, and keeping the backlog items up-to-date is an essential part of the development process.
The product backlog contains numerous ideas. You will require to refine those ideas and discard those which are not relevant. With the last step, backlog items are prioritized and arranged according to the priority level.
Some Prioritization Methods
There are plenty of methods to use to prioritize backlog items. Let’s discuss a few of them:
#1. MoSCoW Technique
MoSCoW is a type of analysis commonly used in product management to understand what is essential to do and what is not. It is a useful method for communicating with stakeholders about what you are working on and why.
The name includes four prioritization categories:
- Must have: Absolutely necessary requirements
- Should have: High priority features
- Could have: Possible features
- Won’t have: Not implemented
“Must have” represents the absolute features that must be there in the product. This could be for safety concerns, business reasons, and legal reasons. For this, list the best-case and worst scenarios of including the feature in the list and paint the picture.
“Should have” signifies the features that can be included but are not mandatory.
“Could have” is for items that can be added if an organization has the necessary resources but is not a necessity to gain success.
“Won’t have” doesn’t tell you that the feature is no longer required or is a trashed item. Instead, the product manager means ‘not this time’. There are several reasons behind this, such as lack of time or resources.
#2. Eisenhower Matrix
This method is a straightforward way to manage time properly. It originated from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s decision-making matrix. This is later changed to a 4-quadrant visualization which can be used to prioritize the tasks in the backlog lists.
The matrix contains two prioritization dimensions – importance and urgency. This technique allows you to allocate tasks across four sections of the matrix that contains:
- High priority
- Medium priority
- Urgent but important
- Low priority
The Kano model is one of the excellent options for organizations looking for customer delight and satisfaction. Product managers’ feature backlog is endless but they want to build a product roadmap with the perfect features. The Kano model is a robust technique that guides product managers. This technique was developed in the 1980s by Noriaki Kano.
This model includes three premises:
- The satisfaction that reflects customer happiness
- Customer reaction depends on the features and functionalities of a product
- Customer feelings
#4. Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF)
WSJF is a tool that helps your teams prioritize a list of initiatives. Usually, this tool is used in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). A team does the math of each initiative’s score by dividing the cost of delay by the job’s size or duration. The item that gets the highest score is on the top list as a high priority.
How to Manage Backlogs
Follow the below-mentioned practices to ensure proper backlog management and keep your backlog healthy:
- Review the product backlog before any iteration planning to ensure that the tasks that you’ve prioritized are correct and that the previous feedback is also implemented.
- When your backlog becomes larger, you must categorize the items into – near-term or short-term, and long-term.
- Decide to keep or delete the items according to their benefits
- Do not add any tasks without proper planning.
- Make this prioritization process a priority in your organization.
Besides, you can easily re-prioritize the tasks during the development process according to customer feedback. In addition, you can refine the previous statements and add new requirements.
Sprint Backlog vs. Product Backlog
- A product backlog lists all the items that must be completed to complete the development process within the time. Whereas a sprint backlog includes items from the backlog that is required to be completed within the sprint.
- Product owners decide the backlog lists, whereas development teams decide the sprint backlog items.
- A product backlog is built based on the product goal. But, a sprint backlog aligns with a specific sprint.
- A product backlog can be changed over time, whereas the sprint backlog doesn’t change after it’s set.
- A product backlog requires maintenance and remains until the completion of the project. But, a sprint backlog doesn’t remain till the end; it ends with the sprint.
Maintaining a product backlog is an essential step in the product development process. It provides a clear view of the ongoing work, completed ones, and your future plans. So, it’s time you create and maintain an effective product backlog and stay on top of your game.
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