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Cover image for Quick Tips-Set on How to Keep Product Backlog Healthy

Quick Tips-Set on How to Keep Product Backlog Healthy

pavelku profile image pavel-ku ・5 min read

A well-ordered and properly prioritized product backlog is aimed not only to make releases and iteration planning easier but also
to broadcast the things a product team intends to work on.

A backlog is a kind of a wish list that contains short descriptions of the desired product functionality. A product owner is a person who describes its top items during a Sprint planning meeting, typically. He or she describes the items in a simple business language without complex tech specifications.

Is it easy to maintain a backlog? How to keep it healthy and live? And what is a good product backlog, after all? This brief post is right about it.

What is a Product Backlog?

A product backlog is a list that contains the new features, changes, bug fixes, knowledge acquisition, technical work, or other essential activities that a team may deliver with the aim to achieve a specific outcome.

The backlog is the only authoritative source for things that a team should work on. It means nothing should get done that isn’t on the backlog. Adding a backlog item to the product backlog should be fast and cheap. It also should be quite easy to remove a product backlog item that does not result in direct progress to achieving the desired goal.

Backlog items may have a variety of formats. One of the most common is a user story. Teams that utilize the product backlog define the format, choosing the items as reminders of the aspects of a solution they may work on. These items may vary in size and extent of detail depending on how soon a team will work on them.

The sequence of backlog items changes as team members gain a better understanding of the outcome. This kind of reordering of existing items, the addition and removal of the new ones, and the continuous refinement of product backlog items make the backlog live and dynamic.

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A product owner has the primary responsibility for maintaining the product backlog. The key activities in managing the backlog include prioritizing backlog items, deciding which items should be removed, and facilitating the backlog grooming process.

A typical product backlog is an efficient way for a team to communicate what they are working on and what they are planning to do next. They get info from story maps that provide a clear picture of the backlog for the entire team and stakeholders.

You can represent your product backlog in physical form using index cards or sticky notes, or apply electronic forms such as text files, spreadsheets, online Kanban boards, etc.

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A virtual board is one of the most effective options for product teams that have remote members or collect a great deal of supplementary info about the backlog items. The key advantage of this board is that it makes the product backlog continuously visible and clear during discussions.

How do product backlogs differ from to-do lists?

A product backlog has some certain properties:

  • Any entry in the backlog is estimated.
  • All entries in the backlog add value for clients.
  • All entries are thoroughly ordered and prioritized.
  • The detail level depends on the position of a certain entry.
  • The backlog is a live document with no action-items or low-level tasks.

Product backlogs may grow rapidly

One of the core objectives of a product owner is focusing on priorities. But often, they have no time to learn and track all of the new competitors’ features. Users may suggest advice and improvements and team members offer new ideas. New updates may happen constantly, but how to make everything in time?

When the backlog increases, it becomes difficult to control it. The solution can be found in applying a proper backlog management tool that will propose systematic solutions for the issue of making a choice:

  • Ideas assessment (in accordance with Value and Effort criteria).
  • Backlog structuring (based on Kanban boards, Labels, and Swimlanes).
  • Visualizing the most essential ideas with a Backlog Priority Chart.

There are other challenges that may happen with your product backlog. Here is a brief list of tips on how to keep the backlog healthy.

Tips on How to Keep a Backlog Healthy

Take the PO role seriously

There should be only one person completely responsible for the backlog of each team. Ideally, this person should be only responsible for one team. He/she needs to have plenty of time available for managing the backlog in collaboration with the entire team and stakeholders.

Limit work in process

It is a good idea to set a limit as to how many items you can have in your product backlog. There is not a size that fits all, but a starting point can be the size per product owner.

It’s rather difficult to give common advice on how long a roadmap should be as it depends on many factors, including a product type and market maturity.

Choose the way of how to maintain the backlog

Develop a clear strategy of how you will manage the backlog and involve team members in that process. The PO holds the responsibility to maintain the backlog, but he/she is not the only one that contributes to the vision.

Make proper decisions

Try to restrain yourself from entering every idea that comes up. Just keep it in mind and if it still is in there after a week it might be worth adding. It is not easy to discard things but having that skill is an important trait of a product owner.

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Prioritize

Finding an appropriate prioritization technique or methodology will help you to get all things done quickly. Luckily, there are many built-in prioritization matrices and frameworks that you can get, applying modern backlog management software.

Follow your own rules

You may want to bypass your own rules and instead pack an abundance of information into each item. Don’t follow this way.

Conclusion

Do not confuse the backlog with a product roadmap. They both serve distinct purposes for Agile teams. The product backlog typically lists tactical details of development, and the roadmap focuses on the broader strategy.

Product backlog management is a joint activity that involves everyone in a team. A successful product backlog management will definitely result in a great release. Do not hesitate to pay enough attention to this important process.

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