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Typical Mistakes Product Owners Make Dealing with Backlog Management

pavelku profile image pavel-ku ・4 min read

Backlog management is an essential work element for any Scrum team. Product owners are those people who must clearly understand what to do and what not to do with the backlog and its parts.

Why is product backlog management important? It clearly defines the direction of the team that is why it is critical to manage it properly and not to fall into pitfalls while handling this artifact.

A product backlog is an ordered list of everything that is needed in the product. It is also the single source of requirements for any changes that the team can make to the product. The content, availability, and ordering of the backlog is the responsibility of the PO.

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Unfortunately, not all product owners at the start of their careers understand exactly how to work with the backlog and what obvious obstacles and mistakes should be avoided. The misunderstanding may occur everywhere.

The oversized product backlog, the lack of frequent maintenance, over-refined backlog items, and other mistakes and delusions, may lead to global problems.

Let’s go in more depth with some of the most evident items to be able to optimize backlog management and move it to a high-quality level.

6 Typical Delusions Product Owners Must Avoid

Delusion 1: Only Product Owners can manage a backlog

Many POs, unfortunately, have a serious misunderstanding about backlog management. Product owners are responsible for the backlog, however, it does not mean that they are the only ones who can insert new items into the backlog. Their direct objective is to encourage a Scrum team and stakeholders to create new product backlog Items.

As Scrum fosters collaboration, so a product owner cannot be the only person who manages the backlog. When new items come in, he/she should instead clarify, groom, and suitably order them.
The reason for this misunderstanding may be related to the PO background. In traditional methodologies, requirements are not managed collaboratively. They are typically written down by analysts.

Delusion 2: Product backlog can be broken into different boundaries

According to the Scrum Guide, the product backlog contains everything related to product development. However, some teams split it up into technical and business (or feature) backlog. Dividing the product backlog is a serious mistake.

There is only one product backlog; otherwise, the team collaboration is reduced drastically. There is only one Scrum team that is responsible for everything related to product development. The PO must provide the product vision to let the team understand the technical challenges that may occur.

Delusion 3: Old product backlog items can be kept

Product Owners must continuously review a product backlog as it is a living artifact. However, the cases when product backlogs have items older than one or even two years are not so rare. It is quite logical that the value of such items is very dubious.

Of course, old items should be removed from the backlog to avoid waste. It's a good idea to remove old items from the product backlog that are older than, for example, three months. When a team follows such an approach, they will become more productive and efficient.

As a product owner, do not hoard backlog items, to avoid the risk that older items become outdated. This will render the previously invested work of the Scrum team obsolete.

Delusion 4: Rare maintenance is ok

Many product owners still forget that the backlog is a living artifact. It can not be totally complete, however many teams investing not enough time into the product backlog grooming. You should definitely avoid this approach.

By ignoring product backlog refinement sessions, the Scrum team misses an opportunity to inspect and adapt it. You need to keep refining the backlog items. The Scrum Guide suggests it usually consumes no more than 10% of the development team capacity.

Delusion 5: Over refinement

Don't fall into the trap of over refinement! Having too many backlog Items refined is not a good idea. It is crucial to remember that your backlog is an ordered list, where the top items are more detailed than the lower ones.

Planning too far ahead, we get waste, since, during the sprint, we learn more, meaning that the lower Product Backlog Items might be refined or become obsolete.

Delusion 6: Over planning

Product owners who are transitioning from traditional methodologies tend to over plan. As we know, Waterfall requires all requirements to be defined up-front. In addition, the requirements are commonly characterized by a single person or separate team, which means the team is not involved.

In Scrum, you have to accept you do not know your path from the beginning. You know where you want to go, but the path you discover within experience and learning. The more you walk, the more you know - it is all about Scrum.

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Final thoughts

It does not matter what product you are developing, as backlog management should be an integral part of the overall product management functionality.

For product owners, it must be evident to learn how to manage a backlog following easy rules and available approaches, in collaboration with their product teams and using professional backlog management software.

With these common truths, they will be able to change managing the product backlog from a routine into a pleasant process.

Pictures used are by K.Grabowska, Cottonbro, T.Gouw (Unsplash com, Pexels.com)

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