10 Tips for Effective Product Backlog Management

Product Management
November 8, 2022
11 mins read
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When developing a product, it is important to focus on the highest priorities and product backlogs tell you what the priority tasks are.

In this blog, we’ll walk you through the best practices of product backlog management. Plus, we’ll cover the process of backlog management, its benefits, importance, and challenges too. So, let’s start with what is product backlog management!

What is Product Backlog Management?

Product backlog management is when the product owner makes additions, adjusts, improves, and prioritizes the backlog items to ensure that customers receive only the best and most valuable product.

It is essentially a list of prioritized tasks that need to get done. If any task is amiss from the list, then the job is not counted to be done.

Product backlog management also serves as a great starting point for sprints planning. It helps the development team to identify the tasks that could potentially be a part of the sprint. So, to ensure accuracy and transparency, the product backlog must be up-to-date through backlog refinement.

A graphic representation of how product backlog management works and steps involved.
The main activities & processes in backlog management

Why is Backlog Management Important?

A comprehensive backlog management practice helps to reduce task ambiguity and makes it easy to plan the next step. It saves a lot of time, keeps the developers’ team updated. Thus, it helps the team to set the right expectations. 

Product backlog management is important as it makes the entire process of product management easier. Besides making product management easy, there are other reasons why backlog management is essential.

  • With product backlogs, the developer’s team need not follow up with everyone in the team. Instead, they can look at the product backlog to identify the tasks that need to be done, in what order, and tick off the ones that have already been done.
  • Product backlog management helps with iteration planning as it ensures that the backlog items are updated and ready to be used for planning purposes. 
  • Another reason why backlog management is crucial is that you want your product backlog to be flexible, quick, and inspired. But without the activity of product backlog management, your backlog can become large, complex, and unreasonably challenging to control in no time.

While product backlog is meant to make lives easier, an XXL-sized and unorganized product backlog can create problems. 

It can affect your innovation embedded in the product and create frustration for the agile development teams working on the product development. 

Also, it can slow down your time to market the product which you know is not that good for your overall business health.

But how do you identify an oversized backlog?

You can immediately identify an oversized backlog when it includes hundreds of entries, from ideas to user stories, experiments, hypotheses, and documentation fragments. In short, that’s what a cluttered product backlog looks like.

The result of such unorganized backlogs is nothing but confusion and complexity. For developers, an oversized backlog can be problematic because they play an integral role in sprint planning. 

To achieve the sprint goal, it is necessary for the product backlog to reflect clear actionable items. And with an oversized backlog, you cannot expect clarity. So, on the developer teams’ end, it takes a lot of time to scour through the backlog and find the priority tasks.

Also, other stakeholders like product owners find it challenging to align teams, forecast timelines, and delivery with an overwhelming product backlog. 

Further, creating a huge backlog of tasks does not create any value for customers. It only leads to bad product decisions. Eventually, such oversized backlogs reduce the company’s ROI. So, if you think backlogs are important, ensure that you know how to maintain a product backlog.

Challenges to Backlog Management

Backlog management is quite popular. Then, why isn’t everyone already using a product backlog? Perhaps, there may be confusion regarding where to get started or how to manage a product backlog.

Though backlog management is beneficial, the truth is that not everyone is ready to take up the product backlog management activities. There are certain challenges surrounding product backlog management that we have explained below.

1. Time

Managing a product backlog takes a lot of time. Especially, when you just begin with your backlog grooming, it looks like an impossible task. But thank heavens, it is not so!

Once you are into it, grooming the backlog becomes easier. Once the grooming session gets over, it will be simpler to add tasks and continue using the backlog.

2. Insignificance

When you start with backlog management, every task and sub-task looks unimportant. There’s nothing to help you with the measuring of the backlog tasks.

So, does it matter if you remove one task or the other? The answer is yes! It does matter what tasks you are removing since you do not know the status of the task.

It is always better to discuss with the product manager before you get started with deleting entries from the list.

3. Lack of motivation

When the product backlog is too long and unorganized, people lose focus and motivation. Even the idea of backlog grooming seems to be demotivating as the entire list becomes complex and cluttered.  

So, it is better to keep a lean backlog from the very beginning. Regular grooming sessions and other techniques for product backlog management can help with its management.

How To Manage Product Backlog?

Now that we know about product backlog management and its challenges, the next thing we must know is - What can we do to manage all the elements involved in the backlog? What are the practices that can help in managing a product backlog?

Well, there are a few practices that you can implement to ensure proper management of the backlog and to keep the backlog healthy. 

  • Review the backlog before the iteration planning meeting to ensure that the prioritization of tasks is correct and that the previous feedback has been implemented.
  • When the backlog gets larger, you must categorize the backlog items into short-term/ near-term and long-term.
  • Delete items that aren’t required and keep the ones that aren’t ready to be off the backlog.
  • Do not add tasks unless planned. 
  • Make prioritization of the backlog tasks a priority!

Besides, the product owner(s) has the freedom to re-prioritize the backlog tasks at any moment considering the customer feedback. They can also refine estimates and add new requirements.

However, once the work is in process, keeping the changes to a minimum is better as they may disrupt the workflow of the team, affect their morale, and focus as well.

10 Tips on Product Backlog Management

Backlog management is easier with a few tips and tricks. So, here’s a list of the best practices for managing a product backlog.

1. Prep work is a must

Before you dive into managing a product backlog, ensure that you have defined and validated the product strategy. To achieve your vision, you must first have a well-defined product strategy.

2. Get your focus right

Your backlog has the product details and user stories that you must implement. It is a strategic tool. So, focus it on the upcoming launches. For the long-term growth of the product, use the product roadmap. 

3. Decide your backlog management strategy

Create a clear backlog management strategy. Do not let it become unorganized or complex with too many items. To maintain transparency and ease of use;

  • Ensure a periodic backlog review
  • Delete irrelevant items
  • Add tasks after planning
  • Prioritize

4. Use a product roadmap

A smart roadmap can help you visualize the overall product strategy. Such a roadmap or timeline can strengthen the base of your backlog management. 

With the product roadmap, you can identify the upcoming releases and their benefits and goals. Keeping the right backlog items will align the backlog with the product strategy. 

5. Collaborate

Let the product managers and the development team collaborate to ensure proper backlog management. Get both teams in backlog-related discussions to discover the technical risks and dependencies better. Also, it helps in increasing the team’s understanding and buy-in and getting clear requirements.

6. Update stakeholders

Maintain transparency with the stakeholders when it comes to the product backlog. Let your stakeholders know the current status, get the latest updates, and offer useful feedback.

7. Hold grooming sessions

If you want to keep your product backlog healthy, grooming sessions are a must. Backlog management involves grooming the backlog regularly or at periodic intervals.

Make the necessary changes, refine the items in collaboration with the development team. Also, analyze the feedback and implement what’s necessary, Delete the unnecessary items and update the existing ones.

8. Look past user stories

User stories are significant. But they aren’t sufficient. So, look beyond user stories into user interactions, non-functional qualities of the product, and user interfaces, and include them in the backlog.

9. Review your roadmap periodically

When you are working in agile, changes are most likely to occur. So, keep reviewing and adjusting the roadmap. You can do so every 3 weeks to months or according to your requirement and factors like product age and market dynamics.

10. Set the backlog priorities right

Prioritizing the tasks in your backlog is a key aspect. Aligned with the KPIs and product vision, your backlog prioritization must be clear and transparent. Use prioritization frameworks and methodologies to help you keep your ideas in order and plan iterations easily.

Zeda.io is the right platform to set your backlog priorities. Not just that, you can create roadmaps, share them with stakeholders, collaborate, and manage product backlog with Zeda.io.

Backlog Management Misconceptions: 5 Things to Avoid

Backlog management isn’t easy. And we totally agree!  The process is quite tedious and time-consuming. Hence, it is prone to errors. Perhaps, listing a few must-avoid mistakes may help you to keep the process error-free. Here are 5 things you must avoid in product backlog management. Do keep these in mind!

1. Backlog items detailing

Too many details in the backlog might create complexities. While you must not get into the pitfall of writing one-liners, intricate details are unnecessary. Make sure that you explain it all in a few lines.

2. No prioritization

Understand that you cannot do everything at once. Without prioritization, product owners can experience backlog overload. As a result, you may see an increase in the overall workload of the team.

So, product owners must categorize backlog tasks into short-term and long-term. It will help them bring the tasks in order of their priority and manage the team’s workload too.

3. Creating separate backlogs

While separate backlogs may seem useful and better, they can be a potential challenge for the teams, especially new ones. Too many backlogs can create confusion and increase the burden of managing each one.

4. No product vision

Your backlog will lose its direction without a vision and timeline. Also, it will be impossible to prioritize tasks without a vision. So, creating a realistic vision is necessary.

5. Too many projects

Product owners must try not to get saddled with too many projects at a time. It creates backlog mismanagement as their focus keeps switching from one project to another.

Product Backlog Management FAQs

Who is responsible for managing the product backlog?

It is the product owner who is responsible for managing the product backlog. But the product owner must collaborate with the development team to ensure that the backlog management process goes the right way.

How do you manage a backlog?

To manage a backlog, carry out the following activities:

  • Review the backlog periodically
  • Delete items that are not necessary
  • Add planned tasks only
  • Group and prioritize tasks
  • Make necessary changes and keep the backlog updated

How do I organize my product backlog?

Backlog items are usually sorted based on risk, value, necessity, and priority. There are ways to organize your product backlog. For instance,

  • Choose a bucketing system
  • Organize by category
  • Create a separate list for long-term tasks
  • Assign scores for overall value

How do you manage backlog issues?

The backlog issue determines the solution. However, there are certain practices that you can consider to solve the common backlog issues and avoid them altogether.

  • Set strategy and rules for backlog management
  • Get your teams on board and discuss the backlog issues
  • Prioritize your backlog tasks
  • Assign the issues to the right person
  • Avoid creating a long and detailed backlog

How to keep your product backlog clean?

Grooming sessions at regular intervals can keep your product backlog clean. You can set time frames and delete unnecessary items without a time frame and vision to ensure a clean backlog.

What does effective product backlog management include?

Effective product backlog management includes creating and prioritizing backlog items, communicating them clearly to the relevant stakeholders, ordering and organizing them, and ensuring transparency, visibility, accessibility, and understanding.

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