One of the most critical components of the Agile product development chain is the Product Backlog; an ordered list of prioritized features that has been created keeping the product vision in mind. It is the product owner’s or product manager’s responsibility to create, maintain and groom the product backlog.
This article tries to get deep into the step-by-step process of creating a product backlog, its importance and the rationale behind backlogs in Agile.
‘A Product Owner orders the work for a complex problem into a Product Backlog.’ – Scrum Guide
The Product Backlog is one of the most important Scrum Artifacts. As with any project, planning and organizing of work is key to success, and the Product Backlog is an artifact that will help you get there! You could think of it as a way of actioning a product plan, from strategy through to completion.
The Product Backlog (PB) is an ordered list of work that the developers must undertake through the product development journey. The tasks that are most important are listed on the top of the backlog, while those that can be completed at a later date are pushed to the bottom.
The Product Backlog serves to define tasks and drive the development forward. It increases transparency and helps the team know how much work is completed and what is left to be done.
The Product Backlog is comprised of PBIs or Product Backlog Items, which are mostly features or functionalities that offer value to the end user. These are written in the form of User stories, and some teams articulate them in the form of use cases or free form text. Other PBIs could also include defects or bugs, technical work, and the acquisition of knowledge needed to complete the tasks.
The team pulls work from the backlog, as per priority, and depending on their capacity to complete the tasks. When a task is completed, it is removed from the top of the list, and the next item is taken up.
Product Managers need to chalk out the product strategy and figure out the best features and functionality for the product, in order to maximise value and create customer delight. The product should have the best solutions in the market for any problem, and to find out this the PMs conduct market surveys, study competitor’s products and talk to subject experts and stakeholders on their needs.
In order to do all this and successfully deliver products of the highest quality, they should be able to distil the high-level requirements into task-level user stories. This they do by creating the Product Backlog, which provides a clear, detailed outline of all the actionable items that the team must work on and the goals that they must deliver.
The backlog is like a To-Do list of tasks, that helps to drive progress and keeps the development always moving.
A product backlog offers significant benefits during the development work.
It provides a single, simple point of reference for the team
When the team works using an ordered product backlog, they are always clear about the next steps. They know exactly which task is required to be taken up next and how many tasks are ahead of them on the list. Priorities are also set, and there is transparency and accountability on the tasks.
Encourages discussion and collaboration
While the items at the top of the list are always detailed out, those PBIs that are lower down may not be elaborated on as yet. When fleshing out the details, the team gets together and holds discussions. Many heads put together are always better than one, and these brainstorming sessions go a long way toward enhancing value and improving the quality and functionality of the end product.
As the team always has the Backlog as a point of reference, they can discuss how to prioritize work, and can figure out dependencies and conflicts that might occur.
Allocation of work becomes easier
With the backlog at hand, the team finds it very easy to allocate work and assign tasks. Tasks are already listed in the order in which they should be taken up, and the team members pick up the tasks and are accountable to complete tasks assigned to them.
How to Create a Product Backlog
Here are the steps that most teams typically follow to create the product backlog:
Agile teams divide their work into time-boxed iterations called sprints. Each sprint typically lasts around 2 weeks or a month, and the team pick up several PBIs that they can complete during this time.
The sprint backlog is a subset of the product backlog and is an ordered list of the tasks that the team expects to complete during the sprint. It is drawn up during the sprint planning meeting at the start of the sprint.
The Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog are similar, yet quite different. Both are integral to the developing and scheduling process and are essential planning artifacts.
Simply stated, the Product Backlog is a list of all the tasks that must be completed to deliver the product. It is not, however, set in stone! Agile projects are constantly evolving, and in keeping with the spirit of Agile the Product backlog is also in a state of constant flux. An efficient product backlog is detailed out into steps, with each epic task broken down into several smaller tasks laid out in the form of user stories.
The Sprint Backlog can be a subset of the Product backlog. It contains items that are pulled out from the top of the product backlog, to be completed during the current sprint. While the product backlog is flexible, the sprint backlog is not and cannot be changed during the sprint. Any items that are left to be completed, even if only in part, are not considered to be ‘done’ but are instead added to the upcoming sprint backlog. They will be taken up during the next sprint.
An Agile Backlog Example
One of the most common approaches to creating an Agile backlog is as follows:
The team starts with the Product vision at a high level, and then sits together to map out the direction and the way forward through the Product roadmap. The roadmap is a plan to execute the development strategy.
The items on the roadmap are grouped into releases, which will be completed during each sprint.
Once they know how many stories can be done in a sprint, the Iteration plan is chalked up and the Sprint Backlog created.
Every day, during the Daily Stand up, the team will commit to completing a certain quantum of work.
The product backlog offers a high level, 360-degree view of all the items that must be completed to create and deliver product value. It is of critical importance to the progress of an Agile project and allows the work to be neatly organized and refined. It clearly articulates the action items to be taken up in the order of priority, and hence sets the stage for achieving a quick flow of value delivery to the satisfaction of the team and all stakeholders.
A well-defined product backlog that is efficiently refined and updated is essential to success with Scrum.