From routine to a pleasant process: what is the product backlog and how to manage it?

Product managers and owners cannot but pay serious attention to the product backlog. Not only to facilitate the planning of releases and iterations, but also to optimize the entire product life cycle that the team intends to work on.

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A product backlog is an ordered set of elements, a task queue, a list of all the functions that interested people want from the product. This list contains brief descriptions of all the desired product features.

The product manager or product owner presents the backlog to the team and manages it, describes its main elements during the sprint planning rally. The backlog description should be made in a simple and accessible language, without technical specifications, so that it can be understood by everyone in the team. Any changes and product requirements should be timely reflected in this task queue.

Product backlog vs sprint backlog


These two Scrum components have different meanings, but are often confused.

A sprint backlog is a list of specific tasks for implementing the selected backlog product elements. This is a list for optimization, which the team will deal with in the next sprint, as well as a description of how they will implement this optimization.

Both backlogs can be represented in a regular Excel spreadsheet, however today experienced managers and product owners use special tools for product management for these purposes , which allow them to correctly visualize the state of affairs.

The product backlog is the product owner, and the development team is responsible for the sprint backlog. Another important difference is the backlog creation time: Product backlog is created on the very first sprint planning, and Sprint backlog should be created by the team on each planning of a new sprint. Thus, the first backlog lives throughout the development of the product, and the Sprint backlog lasts for 1-4 weeks, that is, during one sprint.

What is the meaning of product backlog?


Work on Agile projects does not involve long documentation of all requirements. Typically, the product owner and other team members begin work on the project, noting everything they need to prioritize the backlog. Already such a backlog is enough for the first sprint. Then it can be grown and changed.

A typical product backlog includes the following items:

  • Product features (e.g. custom story forms - descriptions of desired functionality)
  • Different bugs
  • Gaining new knowledge (for example, updating jobs)
  • Technical work (for example, any useful research)

The product backlog cannot be completed because it is dynamically changing and constantly improving.

Backlog items are “user stories” or user stories. Such items are ordered according to their business “weight”. The higher the specific element in the backlog, the sooner the developers will work on it. The upper positions will be more detailed and clear in comparison with the lower elements. All of them should be clear to non-technical team members and stakeholders.

Each element in the product backlog has its own assessment, which developers do. A grading system is used to determine the number of items to be selected for a particular sprint.

Typically, a team adds the necessary details and ratings to backlog items during a special project called backlog grooming or refinement.

What is backlog refinement for?


Backlog refinement (improvement, optimization, "cleaning") is an action or activity during which the team adds details, ratings and order to the product elements. The process should not cover more than 10% of the working time of the development team.
This ongoing process means collaboration between the product owner and developers when they review and revise all elements of the product.

How is Agile product backlog different from a simple to-do list?


The product backlog has certain properties:

  • Any mark in the product backlog adds value to customers.
  • All entries in the product backlog are evaluated.
  • All marks receive their priority and order.
  • The level of detail depends on the position of the mark in the Scrum backlog.
  • A product backlog is a living document without any inaction or low priority tasks.

What if backlog grows relentlessly?


Focusing on key priorities is one of the key tasks of a product manager or product owner. However, very often they do not have time to study and track all the new opportunities of competitors. Users constantly offer improvements and give advice, team members offer new ideas, updates occur. When a product backlog increases, it becomes difficult to control it. How to keep track of priorities if backlog ideas grow like a snowball ?

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The solution can be found in modern product management platforms such as Hygger.io . The functionality of the platform helps to cope with the following issues:

  • Backlog structuring based on Kanban boards, labels and horizontal Swimlanes.
  • Evaluation of ideas (using the convenient criteria of Value and Effort).
  • Visualization and prioritization of important ideas based on the Backlog Priority Chart.

Backlog structuring


In the Hygger backlog, a simple list of ideas is presented on a two-dimensional board. Here you will find useful labels (Labels) and horizontal columns (Swimlanes). You can use the columns in the backlog panel to visualize work steps for ideas:

  • Collect Ideas - to collect all ideas.
  • Review Ideas - for exploring ideas and clarifying obscure points. It is not necessary to describe ideas in detail at the start, as it is not known whether the idea will be exactly chosen for development.
  • Score Ideas - for rating ideas.
  • Approval - for checking ideas by a Scrum-master or project manager.
  • Developing - to send ideas to development.
  • Done - for implemented ideas. This means that the function is “flooded” on production.

Hygger Swimlanes can be used to organize ideas. These horizontal columns on the Kanban board are used to separate the different kinds of problems that team members are busy with. They help teams more easily determine which issue they should work on next.

The Labels option can be used to indicate ideas from specific users or from specific employees.

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Evaluation of ideas


At Hygger, you can evaluate all your ideas using 2 criteria: Value and Efforts . Comparison of these values ​​for each task helps to better prioritize and select the most important tasks for the next development.

  • Value shows what business value your product or business can bring.
  • Efforts measure the resources needed to complete a task.

Backlog Priority Chart


All ideas evaluated can be shown on the Backlog Priority Chart. This graph is useful for evaluating ideas about each other. In addition to the Value and Effort scales, 4 quadrants are offered here:

  • Quick Wins for ideas with really high value and low effort.
  • Big Bets for ideas of great value and effort.
  • Maybes for ideas with low value and effort.
  • Time Sinks for an idea with a low advantage, but high resource costs.

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Whatever the product, service or service being developed, backlog optimization is an integral part of the functionality in management. A professional product owner can easily switch from a backlog to “you,” thanks in part to professional backlog management tools that turn it from a routine into a pleasant process.

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