A product backlog is an unordered list of everything that is known to be needed in the product. It is a list of product features, user stories, tasks and functions the product owner reviews and shortlists for sprint planning meetings. Over time, this list can become large. An oversized product backlog may overwhelm the product owner or manager. This article will discuss the importance of the product management process and ways to manage and optimize the product backlog, so that it no longer seems as daunting.
Product management is, in simple words, the development of products. A product management process focuses on delivering a fresh product into the market or expanding a current product. Product management connects the customer, technology, and business to unify customer needs and company goals in a product.
A product manager decides what gets built first and when, what to build and what not to. They communicate the product vision, objectives, and strategy with the stakeholders and the team. They also develop the roadmap that meets company objective and user demands. So, the product manager is responsible for optimizing the product backlog and ensuring it doesn’t become exhaustive.
An exhaustive backlog starts incurring maintenance costs for all the tasks in the queue. It ends up reducing the value of your product because of the added cost caused by delays. Eventually, bright and fresh ideas are pushed back because the team is stuck in the tasks that were set out in the beginning. To incorporate brilliant ideas into the product development process, the product manager has to manage and optimize the product backlog effectively.
It doesn’t take very long for the product backlog to become so large that it gets overwhelming for the product manager. An exhaustive backlog tends to deviate teams from long-term goals by focusing more on what needs to be done now. Perhaps the customer is proposing excessive improvements, or the team is coming up with ideas regularly. How can managers optimize backlog and stay on top of customer requirements, team ideas, and competitors’ innovations? Here’s how:
The most important aspect of the product is its strategy. The product strategy has to be well-defined and validated. To have a manageable product backlog, make sure the strategy covers your target market research, user needs, a thorough analysis of your competition. Your product strategy should be different and better than the competitor’s and in line with its vision to ensure its long-term demand, growth, and profitability.
To create more transparency in the product backlog, use appropriate tools to make your product timeline or roadmap visual. Draw it and make it accessible for your entire team. Keep track of the progress so you and your team can view what they’re working on at a given time and what’s expected in the near future.
Visualize the team’s daily tasks as well. It will be easy to manage the backlog because it will be right in front of you. You can set up alerts to prompt you when the backlog starts to get overwhelming. Alerts will help you keep the backlog from getting exhaustive; tracking it will be so much easier because it will all be right in front of you. We use Trello as a visual tool to keep track of our team’s progress at Foretheta. Trello helps us organize the workflow and keep the backlog manageable. You can achieve the same thing using an Excel or Google spreadsheet. Some folks use Airtable. Whatever works for you.
Collaborate. Collaborate. Collaborate. Regular and frequent collaboration will protect product development from dissociating with company goals and user needs. Your team’s involvement is crucial, so encourage discussions and questions to increase their understanding and reduce discrepancies. Consistently ask them to participate in the process of keeping the backlog manageable.
Regular grooming meetings are essential to ensure a clean and optimized backlog. Schedule a recurring backlog grooming meeting with all the appropriate stakeholders. This will ensure you are performing this task at a regular cadence.
Analyze the product development in depth and collaborate with the development team to refine the product. It should not take a tremendous amount of time because developers need to be allocating most of their time toward building the product but do not underestimate the importance of having discussions regarding product refinement. The feedback and discussions will help you manage the product backlog.
It would be best if you kept your stakeholders up-to-date with the progress of your product. This includes both the project sponsors, as well as the direct users of the product. Share your product backlog with these stakeholders, so they know the product's status at any given time. You will need them on board to make critical decisions. Sharing status with stakeholders will also help the product as they’ll provide helpful and valuable feedback. When the product backlog is up-to-date, it’s easier to be transparent not just with the team, but with the stakeholders as well.
Review your product roadmap regularly, and don’t hesitate to make changes. This is especially useful if your roadmap review is soon after customer meetings. This will keep your goals and that of your customers’ goals fresh in your mind while you review your roadmap. Regular tweaking will help you stay in line with the company vision and user needs. The market changes rapidly, so you might have to make changes along the way. But making changes is only possible if you review your product timeline frequently.
User stories are crucial in product backlog. Storyboarding is where we, at Foretheta, write user stories to define the scope of the project. Storyboarding is a way to create specifications of the product; what the end-user is expecting. This process helps us understand the purpose of the project. It helps communicate better at this point because it helps understand what end users are expecting, so we document customer requirements to ensure both parties know what they're getting into. Pay attention to the non-functional qualities of the product as well. Handle the non-functional requirements such as scalability, usability, performance, etc., in the user stories to keep your backlog manageable.
Prioritizing is vital in managing the product backlog. It would be best if you made sure that items are presented at the right time because that will help you plan iterations. Working on an item too soon or a little too late will affect the product's value. It will not only help the team work on tasks but will also help them maximize their efficiency and productivity. It will benefit your product's overall development while aligning it with the product vision and Key Performance Indicators. It will also help you manage the product backlog.
Backlog management is an essential part of the product development process. The product backlog can very easily become unmanageable with hundreds of items on the list. It’s challenging to follow through the tasks, and you end up losing control of the product’s direction. You need to prioritize, maximize outcomes, and minimize output to keep the backlog from getting out of control. It's essential to have a well-defined product strategy, transparent backlog, team collaboration, regular grooming meetings, and regular product refinement. Other than that, visualizing daily tasks, keeping stakeholders up-to-date with the progress, reviewing the roadmap routinely, making changes when required, and having functional and non-functional items in user stories will help optimize product backlog and make the process of managing product backlog effortless and effective. Managing product backlog will ensure that product managers deliver high-quality products to their customers.