Using the product backlog can be challenging, and many product owners wrestle with overly long and detailed backlogs. The following ten tips bring focus to your product backlog, and help you to stay on top of it.
- Derive your product backlog from the product vision or the product roadmap. Your product backlog should describe one product. It should focus on the next product version / the next major public release.
- Make your product backlog DEEP. Ensure that is detailed appropriately, emergent, estimated, and prioritised.
- Use a structured, hierarchical product backlog. Group similar items into themes.
- Make your product backlog visible. Put your backlog up on the wall or if that’s not possible, on a wiki server.
- Keep your backlog focussed and concise. Start with a sketchy product backlog that contains about 40-50 items. Your backlog is likely to grow in the first few sprints based on customer and user feedback. Only list items essential to create a successful product. Have the courage to weed out other items.
- Employ user stories to capture functional requirements. Start with large, coarse-grained stories and progressively decompose them over time into detailed ones thereby incorporating customer and user feedback.
- Use risk/uncertainty, dependencies and releasability to decide how soon an item should be implemented. Addressing risky items early on allows you to fail fast. It provides you with options to decide if and how to continue. If you cannot remove a dependency, manage it. And if you want to release an early product increment then order your backlog accordingly.
- Manage global non-functional requirements carefully. Describe them precisely upfront. Capture operational qualities such as performance, robustness and interoperability as constraints; describe usability requirements visually, for instance in form of sketches, mock-ups, and screen shots.
- Groom your product backlog regularly and collaboratively. Run weekly grooming workshops with the team to ensure that your backlog is in good shape. Involve stakeholders including customers and users as appropriate.
- Make sure the top items are always “ready:” clear, feasible, and testable. This allows the items to flow into the sprint and facilitates a realistic commitment.
You can find out more about working with the product backlog by reading my book Agile Product Management with Scrum and by attending one of my training courses.