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Some Tips on Product Backlog Management

“In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not”

Albert Einstein

The role of a Product Owner is quite clear to project members. The team knows the person is responsible for the product backlog creation and management. Putting it as simple as that things are quite clear. However, the theory is very much different from the reality. There are numerous pitfalls the product owner has to overcome during the project.

According to the Scrum Guide,  the Product Owner should:

  • Order items in the Product Backlog to successfully achieve goals and missions;
  • Show what the Scrum Team will work on next;
  • Optimize the value of the work the Development Team performs.

However, in practice working with the product backlog can be very challenging for many Product Owners. The person has to decide what to include in the backlog, what to do first and what to skip. In addition to that, the backlog is more than just a list of features that delivers a business or a customer value.

It is apparent that a talented Product Owner wants to deliver as much value for a customer, users and an organization as possible. However, should it be at all costs? No, it shouldn’t. Therefore, if the Product Owner is fully focused on delivering as many features as possible, the mistakes are inevitable. In cases like these, the Product Owner may think the aim is to deliver more features. Actually, the Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value for the customers and users to ensure the product success.

The Product success is not only about the new features or functionality. It also about bugs resolving and technical debt minimization. The product should have an optimal architecture solution, high performance, and security level. Product success also depends on a properly held test automation, the development/delivery process and lots of other things. Therefore, all these should be added and carefully prioritized the backlog.

Along with that, when all the features, requirements, tasks are added to the product backlog, it should still be manageable. It is not good if the Backlog has 100+ items since it would be too difficult to manage it. The job of the Product Owner is to maximize the outcome and to minimize time and efforts. The question is who to do it successfully?

A good practice to manage the Product Backlog

The classic tip is to include in the backlog and develop only the essential features first. Choose those that make the backbone of the product. It is better to have a working product with fewer features than have a plan but no product at all. There are many methods how to prioritize the Backlog items. It is important to choose the most suitable one for your product and team.

However, remember that the product backlog is a living artifact. It’s something that evolves, changes, grows and shrinks over the time. It means that the Product Owner needs to continuously reorder the backlog. Besides, the team can receive some new features or tasks after the backlog prioritization.

Let’s look at a possible case. You have the prioritized Backlog. It consists of the list of features, User Stories, and tasks. However, at some point, you receive a new feature from the business owners, or some bug after testing, or the feedback from the users after the demo, or some new technical task. How to make the decision about the priority of this new item in the whole backlog?

The algorithm below gives one of the possible solutions.

According to this approach, you can reorder your Backlog keeping focus on the most valuable thing – the product value. It gives you the opportunity to decide if this new item should be included, postponed or rejected.

Product Owner “in practice” constantly faces such challenges. “In theory” all things are important. “In practice” we have to make a choice. So, make it correctly. It’s more efficient to solve the most important tasks with the highest priority.

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