Everyone who designs and manages products is familiar with the situation in which different ideas, requirements, market demands and legal regulations just pile up. You end up with a big stack of wishes and requirement and need to refine and prioritize them for implementation. Therefore a well maintained product backlog is highly beneficial and supports you in creating a good product. Here are practices that have proven useful to me over the years.
Create an initial product backlog containing just the minimum
The idea is to keep focus while creating the initial version of your product. Therefore include only the essential features to your product backlog. Keep lower prioritized or advanced features out and focus on providing a product that meets customers expectations first and foremost. Once this is achieved you can start adding advanced features that surprise users. In order to find these core features you can use the whole toolset that you’ve got, such as user testing, market research etc. As the product grows and improves incrementally, you’ll get the possibility to add further features.
Interact with potential users and developers
The chances your product is accepted or even loved by users are much higher if potential users and everyone involved in creating the product is involved as early as possible. The idea here is that better products emerge out of different people’s feedback. Profit from other people’s views and ideas instead of doing all the work alone while increasing the risk of failure.
Keep the product backlog transparent
Ensure that all persons involved have transparency over your product backlog at any time. This needs to be paid attention to as many people might want to bring in their views and ideas, which should only be added to your product backlog in a structured way. A transparent product backlog ensures that the features or requirements are visible to everyone and helps to gain common understanding of the product.
Prune the product backlog regularly
This keeps focus and reduces waste of effort. Don’t worry, good ideas will always find their way back into the product backlog. For focused product backlog management set a limit and regularly prune the product backlog once the number of items exceeds this limit. Ensure you don’t set the limit too low to avoid bottlenecks in implementation.
Prioritize the product backlog
This ensures that you refine the most relevant items before the less important ones. Depending on your prioritization criteria you should have a prioritized backlog at all times. Good prioritization enables you to get early feedback on your product ideas and reduces uncertainty.
Ensure that the backlog contains enough “ready” items
It is very important to have enough items in your product backlog that are in a ready state, so that they can be implemented right away. If you lack ready items you might run the risk that the teams have to wait for items to implement or work on items with a high degree of uncertainty (which means usually higher effort and costs). Ready items in your product backlog are fundamental for reliable planning of iterations and releases.
Refine and Groom the product backlog regularly
Pruning the product backlog, as mentioned above, is actually part of that process. Manage your product backlog and invite all relevant people to regular sessions to refine your backlog. This includes getting more details for higher prioritized items and sorting out items that might not be needed anymore for whatever reason. The product backlog is dynamic at all times and should reflect the latest insights and feedback obtained. Use these sessions also to evaluate whether your product backlog is inline with your organization’s strategy.