Backlog Management
Backlog Management

Mastering Professional Product Backlog Management: Key Factors & Best Practices

Without professional product backlog management, the development of an agile project can quickly stall and the results fall short of expectations. However, clear processes and best practices are essential for successful, user-centric product development. In this article, we present the elementary key factors that help to take a Product Backlog Management to the next level and thus ensure the success of an agile project.

Impact of Product Backlog Management on Project Success

A well-managed backlog has a direct impact on project success. The team can focus on creating business value and setting the right priorities. On the other hand, if the backlog is not managed properly, several problems can occur:

Establishing Roles and Responsibilities

A dedicated Product Owner (PO) plays a central role here and is responsible for a maintained, prioritized and organized backlog. In doing so, the PO should have a deep understanding of the product vision, business case, customer needs and market trends, and facilitate communication between stakeholders, development teams and relevant parties.

Structuring the Backlog

Limiting the amount of work in the product backlog is a critical success factor for effective product development. A backlog should be structured so that everything can be implemented within 3-6 months and should not contain more than 30-40 Product Backlog Items (PBI). If too many tasks are included in the backlog, a “user story trash can” quickly develops in which items are never processed or become obsolete. Some key tips for structuring the backlog and writing effective user stories are:

1. Single point of reference: The backlog should serve as the single point of reference for all requirements related to product changes, fixes or enhancements.

2. Hierarchies: Project requirements should be organized into a multi-level hierarchy – starting with high-level topics (epics/features), followed by specific user stories (stories) and finally granular tasks (subtasks).

3. Specification by Example: Epics should be defined using Specification by Example, a collaborative approach that uses concrete examples to illustrate requirements.

4. INVEST Criteria: Stories are smaller, user-focused tasks that contribute to the completion of an Epic. To ensure that user stories are effective and easy to understand, the INVEST criteria should ideally be followed:

5. Format of User Stories: Ideally, the format used for writing user stories is “As a user, I would like… so that…”. The format should be generally clear and simple, focusing on the user’s needs and the value they will get from the feature.

6. Gherkin scenarios for clarification: With “Gherkin” (a simple description language) the behavior of software can be described with a simple, structured text.

7. Roles, applications, acceptance criteria & UI/technical design: For each user story, the roles involved, the applications affected, the acceptance criteria and any relevant UI or technical designs should be defined.

Prioritization and Estimation

Prioritizing the backlog ensures that the team works first on the tasks that will provide the most value. Backlog items are best prioritized based on factors such as business value, risk, and dependencies.

There are several proven techniques such as MoSCoW, the Kano model, or WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First) that can help with prioritization. Planning poker or T-shirt size can be used to estimate the time required.

Maintaining a well-developed Backlog

Regular backlog refinement ensures that the team keeps track and is always up to date. This way to the elements in the backlog remain relevant and up-to-date. By limiting the number of tasks to 3-6 months, the team can better plan and adjust priorities based on new information, feedback, and changing circumstances.

Collaborative Decision Making and Stakeholder Involvement

Shared decision making that involves stakeholders is critical. Open discussions and feedback from team members allow different perspectives to be considered.

Project progress can be tracked using metrics such as sprint burn-down charts, sprint goal success, technical debt reduction, and cumulative flowcharts. Regular updates for stakeholders provide transparency and enable the integration of feedback into further work.

Continuous Improvement and Learning

Continuous improvement and learning are essential for successful project management. Incorporating best practices from past projects and continually developing team members’ skills and knowledge can create an extremely powerful and efficient team.

Professional Backlog Management with COCUS

Effective Product Backlog Management is critical to the success of any software development project. Applying the key factors and best practices described above will ensure that the backlog is well organized, prioritized, and meets the expectations of the stakeholders. This, in turn, helps the team stay focused, adapt to change, and deliver high-quality products that meet or exceed customer requirements.

However, we know that mastering professional product backlog management can be challenging, especially when juggling other responsibilities and project requirements. That is where COCUS comes in. Our experienced product owners can help navigate the complexities of backlog management and ensure that a project stays on track and the company can focus on the big picture. Together, we can help your organization skyrocket project success and deliver exceptional value.

Guest contribution by
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Anna Roscina

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