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Make Sure Your Product Backlog Is OPTIMISED

. . . and deliver awesome products

1 June 2016

If you are a product owner, I'm sure that you would agree that in order to become successful and continuously deliver awesome products, you must possess the following attributes.

1. Availability

Agile principle no. 4: Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

This principle emphasizes the need to be available to your development team during the project execution. No matter how much effort you spend on discussing requirements, it is not possible to capture all the details. Often we see that the development team is clear about the first few if-and-else cases, but after that, there may be some more else-if loops that they are not clear about. In such cases, if you were available, you could avoid lots of back-and-forth emails and thus contribute to a smoother development cycle. Hence, being available to your team is critical to the product's success.

2. Accountability

Agile principle no. 1: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer with early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Based on your role, you are accountable for the return on investment and product success. Collaborate with stakeholders and the development team to balance their needs and expectations.

3. Empowerment

Agile principle no. 2: Welcome changing requirements, even late in development.

This sounds cool, but if you do not say "no" to non-value-added requirements and changes, your product value curve may deteriorate rather than trend upward. Saying "yes" to all changes makes your stakeholders ride you. Therefore, you should feel empowered to make certain decisions at the right time to balance the expectations and product progress.

4. Domain knowledge

To deliver a unique product, you must have in-depth domain/functional knowledge of the product. It is prudent to spare some time to understand market changes that will impact your product. Analysis of your competitors' product and designing innovative features will help you improve your domain knowledge.

Maintain an optimised [optimized] product backlog

After you have honed these attributes, manage your product backlog effectively. You have to keep in mind that your product backlog is OPTIMISED.

O — Ordered

Make sure that your backlog is always ordered and that the topmost items are high-value ones. You can use prioritization techniques, such as MoSCoW or Theme Scoring, or those by Karl Wiegers or Noriaki Kano, to properly order your backlog items.

P — Possess value

If your product value curve must go in an upward direction, ensure that the backlog items have business value. Always remember Agile principle no. 10: Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential. Say "no" to the items that do not contain any value. Value may not be always be tangible, so you must understand what kind of value a backlog item brings to the product and accordingly add, move, or remove the item within the backlog.

T — Transparent

Do not hide the product backlog from your team or stakeholders. One of the legs of the empirical process is transparency. You should be able to communicate the "whole," and your team should be able to see the whole, which is possible only by keeping the product backlog transparent and available to the relevant people. However, you own the product backlog, so you are ultimately responsible for any prioritization decisions.

I — Incomplete

Remember, your product backlog is never complete. Items are added, removed, and changed, which makes your backlog incomplete. Rather, focus on what is essential and start with that. While you deliver items iteratively and incrementally, you gain more clarity, which helps you identify and prioritize future items of your backlog.

M — Managed continuously

To satisfy Agile principle no. 8 (sustainable pace) and no. 10 (simplicity), manage your product backlog continuously and effectively. To do this, backlog refinement is the key. Make sure that you focus on splitting existing stories, writing new stories, creating acceptance criteria, and sizing the backlog items during the backlog refinement meeting. Make sure to have consensus on the Definition of Ready (DoR).

I — Includes all the work

Ensure that any work that is being carried out for product development is part of your product backlog. This can be functional, nonfunctional, infrastructural, technical debt, and so on. The team should not carry out any work that is not part of the backlog. Encourage teams to create their technical stories, and let them inform you of the importance of those stories so that you can properly prioritize them.

S — Sized

To properly prioritize the backlog items, size and value are two important factors. Allow team members to size (estimate) the backlog items. You and your development team should collaborate on the backlog items and make sure that you both are on the same page from the point of view of understanding the value of the backlog items.

E — Emergent

Your backlog should be progressively elaborated. Items that are important and urgent must have enough supporting details, such as acceptance criteria, UI/UX if complex navigation is required, and specification by examples. Items that are not urgent and are at the bottom of the backlog do not require details. Use the DoR to balance the items in your backlog.

D — Dynamic

Remember that your product backlog is a living document; it's not static. That means, depending on the feedback that you receive from the stakeholders, your backlog must constantly change. Thus, moving items from bottom to top or removing items are both part of this dynamism.

Please leave your valuable comments on this article. Thank you, have a great time, and deliver awesome products.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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