The Product Backlog is a major Agile and Scrum Artifact. A lot of teams struggle while managing it. 

Why is that? 

What are the reasons? 

To all your questions, we have answers. Before we look at the 9 Product backlog mistakes to avoid, let’s do a quick revision of the Product Backlog. 

What is a Product Backlog?

The product backlog is a list containing and prioritizing the details of every little task you require to include in your product. Any changes to your product can be made using the product backlog as it’s the only source of requirements.

The product backlog is dynamic and needs to be regularly updated.

Contents of a Product Backlog

While there is no fixed criteria for the contents of a product backlog, it should ideally contain- 

  • Bug Fixes
  • User Stories 
  • New features 
  • Upgrade to existing functionalities
  • Technical Debt 
  • Infrastructure Update 
  • Design improvements
  • UX problems 
  • Feature requests from customers and stakeholders 

Benefits of a Product Backlog

The Product Backlog is an important artifact that provides remarkable benefits. Here are the 4 benefits of the Product Backlog you should be knowing-

1. Boosts efficiency: Since prioritization of tasks happens regularly, the development team will be able to manage their time better. This boosts efficiency and improves productivity as it allows developers to spend the majority of their time developing rather than differentiating between items.

2. Enables flexibility: Product Backlogs are dynamic as they evolve according to customer needs, market dynamics, etc. Based on customer feedback and market demands, the backlog is prioritized and reprioritized.

This flexibility ensures that no task is left isolated and stagnant or unassigned for way too long. The development team can work better by aligning tasks according to priority.

3. Provides scope for team discussion: Based on Product Goal/ vision, the items prioritized in the backlog can be further re-prioritized during review/demo sessions with stakeholders based on the outcome of the previous iteration/sprint and then further discussion can happen at the backlog refinement meeting which opens the door for team discussion at a granular level. 

Tasks can be prioritized based on complexity or scale.

4. Syncs expectations: Product Backlogs help in visualizing what’s coming next to the development team and how it’s driving the product direction.  All the team members will have a shared understanding of the current status of the product and how the backlog items drive the product goals in alignment with organizational strategy. 

As the Product Backlog serves as the sole source of requirements, the team will be able to work as a close-knit unit.

Learn how to effectively manage Product Backlog: Register for the PSPO Certification Training 

Product Backlog Mistakes To Avoid at all Cost

Throughout our research, we found development teams committing certain product backlog mistakes which derail the development process. Here are 9 Product Backlog Mistakes that you may be committing- 

1. Overdependence on Product Owner for defining the product backlog: The Product Owner is accountable for the Product backlog. They possess concrete knowledge of the market, target market, and customers. However, the cross-functional team must work together with the Product Owner to build a high-quality product backlog containing prioritized tasks that will deliver value to the customers. 

2. Give authority to everyone, to add things to the product backlog: Giving a free pass to everyone to access the Product backlog is a bad idea unless the Product Owner is committed to the Product Backlog.  

While new ideas and additions are encouraged even at the later stages of development, it is essential to discuss with the Product Owner before any new backlog items are added.

Make sure the Product Owner is constantly communicating with the customers and the stakeholders to verify the requirements before it’s added to the product backlog. 

3. Leave the Product Backlog redundant: The Product Backlog needs to be updated regularly. The Product Backlog quality directly affects the potential of the agile team to deliver the high performance that it desires. 

How do you ensure that the backlog doesn’t become redundant? By conducting regular backlog refinement to ensure optimum quality.

4. Make the Product Backlog too vast: Often, the most common product backlog mistake is stuffing the product backlog with a lot of items. A product backlog with for instance 20,000 items is impossible to understand let alone prioritize. 

Your Product backlog needs to be concise. This helps in countering uncertainty. Here is a 3 step exercise for making the product backlog concise-

  • Club and organize the items into themes
  • Keep the low priority items abstract 
  • Channelize the product backlog towards accomplishing a specific product goal

5. The Product Backlog is unnecessarily comprehensive: The  Product Backlog needs to be short and concise. Making it too detailed will leave the developers confused. The development team’s efforts are hindered by uncertainty and change. 

The product backlog should be granular at the top and coarse-grained subsequently.  The product backlog should evolve based on the feedback of the customers, end-users, and stakeholders. The items in the product backlog should be added based on empiricism and not based on guessing.

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6. The Product Backlog is not correctly refined: How often do you come across development teams that manage to complete their work during a sprint? Rarely

The reason? The development team overcommits and never manages to complete the work in a sprint.

To correct this, make sure the development team has a complete understanding of the high-priority items. Next, ensure they fulfill the Definition of Done

7. No prioritization of the Product backlog: As mentioned above, if the product backlog is vast, it means that everything is a priority. If everything is important, then nothing is a priority. 

Backlog overload will burden your development with massive workload.

If you’re having a hard time prioritizing your product backlog, here are two simple steps to resolve it. 

  • All the product backlog items should cater to the product goal 
  • Select factors for prioritization such as risk, cost-benefit, and dependencies  

User stories should be split as smaller user stories are easier to understand. Other benefits include easy identification of waste and faster feedback.  

8. Lack of shared understanding: Shared understanding between the Product Owner and the development team is essential for faster delivery. In Agile, the Product Owner and the developers work together to filter, split and develop the user stories. 

Having a shared understanding helps in-

  • Having a crystal clear picture of the user needs and what is practically possible from a business and technical viewpoint
  • Product Owner Intent and the level of understanding of the development team 

9. The Product Backlog is not strategically aligned: If the Product Backlog isn’t in line with the Product Roadmap then your product backlog is not strategically aligned. A Product Roadmap excluding product goal and strategic guidance will just be a vast wishlist making prioritization hard. 

Product goals need not be big. It can be as simple as user acquisition, increasing conversion rates, eliminating technical debt, and minimizing costs.

Best Practices for Effective Backlog Management

Maintaining an effective backlog that supports the product goal isn’t a herculean task. Here are the 4 best practices for effective backlog management. 

1. Keep the backlog size in check: Stuffing your product backlog with infinite items will make managing it tough. Prioritize items that serve the product goal and user needs and remove the rest.

2. Maintain a single backlog: While it is tempting to maintain separate backlogs for customers, and Development team(s), it will only confuse. All valuable ideas will ultimately make it to the product backlog sooner or later. By crossing off low-priority items from the backlog list, you are making prioritization clearer. Fun fact- Multiple teams can work on a single product backlog.

3. Learn to Delegate: A Product Owner might be ambitious enough to handle all the tasks yourself, inclusive of functional designs, acceptance criteria, user stories, and the like. But, you will have too much on your plate and it’s best to delegate the above tasks to your team members, so you can solely focus on vision, strategic roadmap, business value, market, and stakeholders.

4. Monitor your product backlog: As the Product Owner, don’t let everyone add tasks to the product backlog. Because this will lead to confusion, transparency, and make things difficult. You should at all times monitor the product backlog and know the list of items in your product backlog.

Conclusion  

Product Backlog is an important agile and scrum artifact. If it lacks the product goal and roadmap alignment, then the direction headed will lead to nowhere.

What are the Product Backlog mistakes you are committing? How do you plan to solve them?  If you need help, we’re just a message away.

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Author's Bio
Agilemania

We are a team of Professional Scrum Trainers (PST) and Enterprise Agile coaches actively working as Scrum Trainers, Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters/Product Owners aimed at delivering quality and consistency for our students across the globe.