Product Backlog: How to Create, Organise and Maintain it

November 16, 2022
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A properly streamlined and organized product backlog helps you plan, iterate, and acknowledge all the diverse activities that your team needs to work on. Product backlog includes external and internal lists of activities that businesses might maintain to keep all the stakeholders up to date about the progress of various projects. 

In this blog, we will discuss product backlog, the creation of a product backlog, and various best practices extensively to maintain an agile product backlog. 

So, let’s dive in! 

What is the product backlog?

A product backlog is a list of actionable items that the product development team uses to organize, prioritize and manage their tasks. Most product development teams have a lot on their plates and they often juggle multiple tasks at once. Hence, it becomes challenging for them to prioritize the critical tasks. 

A product backlog helps the developers to plan their tasks. At the same time, other stakeholders can also refer to keep track of the priority items that the development team is working on. Maintaining a product backlog is a rather good practice considering it will include all ideas, action items, and tasks in one place. 

What are the major elements of a product backlog? 

Some of the common elements within a product backlog are as follows: 

  • User story - This will include product feedback from the users that you can treat as major business requirements for your backlog
  • Bug report - A bug report lists all those features that went wrong for the product and you need to fix these on priority. 
  • Research insights - Any information related to product development that needs further research will also be part of the product backlog

  • Improvement areas - This section within the product backlog must include all the potential product improvement areas that the development team must prioritize. 
  • Support tickets - Any user complaints or support tickets that the development team should track will also be part of a product backlog. 

Different Types of Backlogs You must Know of 

Depending on the features and functions, there are three different types of backlogs that businesses must know of: 

  • Product backlog - A product backlog includes all those features that a business is willing to implement but has not yet prioritized for the product release
  • Release backlog - Release backlogs are those that require fast implementation for the product release. 
  • Sprint backlog - A sprint backlog includes user stories that should be completed within a specific period. 

How to create and develop a product backlog? - A step-by-step guide 

Here are the steps to create and develop a product backlog for your product development team: 

Step 1: Create your product roadmap 

The first step is to create a product roadmap. The product roadmap is a structure of different phases of a product and how it will shape up in the future. It is the cornerstone of a product backlog. So, in the first step, it is a must that the development teams get a clear idea of the roadmap ahead to plan their action items accordingly. A product roadmap gives your internal teams an idea of what they should work on, and accordingly, the team can proceed. 

Step 2: List all the action items 

The next step is to list all the action items and their respective ETAs within your product roadmap. It depends on the development team how they want to structure their lists. For example, some teams may prefer to focus on one task at a time, while others can prefer to complete all tasks at once. 

Ideally, the development team and product manager should collaborate to list all the tasks based on urgency. That means a task with a more critical impact should be prioritized first. Development teams should refer to user stories before creating this task list. It will help understand which features are essential for the users and how they should plan their activities. 

Once you build the product list thoroughly, it is very important to share it with the product development team for review. Product owners must organize backlog grooming sessions (also known as product backlog refinement) periodically to ensure that each team member reviews the action items and plans their next steps based on the insights. 

Step 3: Prioritize the tasks from a value perspective 

Now that you have your product backlog ready, it is time to prioritize the tasks from your product backlog. There are two broad ways to prioritize your backlog, namely: 

  • The product owner can prioritize the tasks based on the vision and business requirements 
  • The product owner can also conduct a customer survey to understand customers’ requirements and prioritize the tasks accordingly 

Product owners can also use the MoSCoW method to prioritize their tasks. Here is how: 

  • Tasks you Must to 
  • Tasks you Should do 
  • Tasks you Could do 
  • Tasks you Won’t do 

Once you have this list ready, sorting and prioritizing the tasks will become easier. 

Step 4: Structure the deliverables in a story format 

When you have a product backlog in place and the tasks are segmented based on priority, it is time to structure the deliverables in a story format. This will help the development team to understand the business requirements and simplify their jobs. 

Here are is how you can formulate your story: 

  • Customer - In this segment, you can effectively explain the target customer profile and their requirements. For a deeper understanding, you can also mention the names of specific customers so that the development teams can connect better. 
  • Action items - In this section, you can mention how the users will use your product. It will help the development teams to understand the possible challenges the users may face. 
  • Purposes - Finally, you can explain how your deliverables will help the customers in this section. 

Step 5: Communicate the backlog 

Product backlog refinement sessions are a great way to communicate product backlog with the product development team and other stakeholders. The product owner can arrange such sessions to include all the team members and communicate the deliverables with them for clarity. 

4 Product backlog best practices product managers must know 

Here are some of the product backlog best practices that you must focus on: 

1. Stay aligned with product goals 

Product teams set a goal in the beginning to provide some kind of context. The product owner and the development team must stay aligned with this goal to ensure that everything is going smoothly. Note that product goal and product strategy are two different aspects. Product strategy may change over time depending on changing market trends or customer requirements. However, the product goal has to be the same throughout the process. 

2. Focus on product prioritization 

One of the biggest responsibilities of a product owner is to manage product backlogs' items properly. And to do that, they have to conduct ruthless prioritization. The product owner needs to sort the product backlog into three broad categories, namely:

  • The high priority items which add great value to the product
  • The mid priority items which should be discussed during product refinement sessions
  • The low priority items which can be ignored till the next refinement session

A great way to prioritize backlog items is through color-coding. For example, you can mark the high-priority items as red to ensure that the product development team focuses on those tasks at the earliest. 

Product owners can also use different frameworks to prioritize the backlog items. These may include: 

  • MoSCoW
  • Value vs Complexity
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis (COBE)
  • Impact Mapping
  • Opportunity Scoring

These frameworks will help you sort the product backlog in an organized manner. 

3. Arrange product refinement sessions 

Product refinement or product grooming is related to refining the backlog items from time to time to ensure that all members have in-depth clarity. 

Suppose, your product development team is working on a hiring app. Most users have asked to add a background verification feature to this app. Accordingly, you have added this item to your product backlog. However, before assigning the task to your product team you have not explained it. In that case, it is difficult for them to work on this task without context.

Product owners arrange product refinement sessions to discuss all the information gathered from the stakeholders and assist the team members in prioritizing the tasks depending on urgency. 

4. Plan your sprints carefully 

Planning your sprints efficiently is another product backlog best practice. A great way to plan your sprints is to move all the backlog items to your scrum board. It will give you an idea of the number of items to be added to the next sprint sessions. 

Final Words 

A product backlog is the foundation of the product development process. It bridges the gap between your product development team and users’ expectations. Managing your product backlog from the beginning can help you avoid unnecessary chaos and ensure that your product strategy is on the right track. 

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FAQs on product backlog 

Who can create product backlog items?

The product owner is responsible for creating and managing product backlog items. 

What should be in a product backlog? 

A product backlog can include user stories, customer feedback, bugs, action items, and so on. 

What does a good product backlog look like? 

A good product backlog should follow the DEEP framework. That means, it should be Detailed, Emergent, Estimated, and Prioritized. 

How is the product backlog arranged? 

The product backlog should include different tasks one by one till the end of the list. 

What is a good backlog size? 

A product backlog should include at least 2-3 sprints. 

How many items are in a product backlog?

There can be a maximum of 48 items in a product backlog. 

How do I keep my backlog clean? 

You can prioritize your product backlog items and color-code them to ensure that it is clean and organized. 

How do you create a first backlog?

To create your first backlog, you need to follow certain steps like setting up your product goal, defining the product strategy tasks, prioritizing, etc. 

Who owns the product backlog?

The product manager owns the product backlog. Can Product Owners change the product backlog anytime?

Can a developer make changes to the product backlog? 

Generally, it is not suggested that developers make changes to the product backlog. Only the product manager should do it. 

Why do you need a product backlog? 

You need a product backlog to stay updated about stakeholders’ expectations and communicate those to the product development team. 

What is a healthy product backlog? 

A healthy product backlog is one that is regularly updated and includes all details that the development team must know to progress with the product. 

What is the benefit of a backlog?

A product backlog helps the product development team to work on the products while staying aligned with the product goal. 

Why is backlog important for a business? 

Backlogs are important because they provide an indication of your development team’s performance.

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