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Importance of the Healthy Product Backlog and Product Owner Role


Importance of the Healthy Product Backlog and Product Owner Role

Product Backlog (PB) management is critical for successful agile implementation. Healthy PB helps better product delivery, team satisfaction, and happy customer. You may be wondering how are all these links with healthy PB and the role of the Product Owner1. Let me explain my thoughts here and hope that will add value to your role and organization!

Product Backlog (PB) in agile is a list of prioritized product features written in user stories2 and teams’ ultimate to-do list from top to bottom iteratively. A well-organized PB is a key for successful planning, development, and continuous iterative incremental delivery.

Fig 1- Product Backlog

Now imagine that stakeholders, users, customers, and field employees are continuously sending tons of features that need to be implementing immediately. If PO doesn’t manage PB effectively then easily and quickly it would be unmanageable. Poor PB will break the delivery flow and become a burden for Teams. It will create an imbalance between the influx of requests vs outflux of implementation capacity.

Therefore, the Product Owner (PO) has to play the gatekeeper to keep PB healthy and maintain priority in such a way that it will always ensure ROI. PO has to protect teams by saying “NO” to implement all features and prioritized them in the right order.

The most important concept of funneling through backlog items to agile teams knowing their capacity (refer below Fig 2). PO always makes sure the top priority item shown on top of the backlog and goes first through the funnel to teams to manage the capacity of the agile teams.

Fig 2 – Prioritization & Funneling

Backlog with High, Medium, and Low Priority PBIs

Let’s imagine, you as a PO managing 20 HIGH, 40 Medium, and 100 LOW features into your backlog. Your agile team can pull one item but the HIGH bucket has 20 plus unranked PBIs so, which one to pull? Obviously, the agile team will be puzzled and frustrated if they need to choose one over another from many same priority items (refer to Fig#3 below). This is not an effective way of managing PBL and prioritization.

Fig 3: Broken Backlog

Stack Ranked Backlog

Stack rank PB is the best way to manage the prioritization of all items. Then each item will be ranked with numbers 1 to n and only one item will get priority 1. This also clearly answers agile teams’ question of which one to pull next if bandwidth permits.

Well, this never means to compromise needed collaboration and direct communication. Rather this stacked ranked PBL will help better collaboration and clear vision in terms of product features it could be MVP or enhancement.

Therefore, poor & ambiguous PB forced agile teams to deliver poor quality. Further, make them frustrated and demotivated with huge technical debts.

 One Product, One Backlog

Multiple backlogs for a single product surely create confusion, prioritization inefficiency, and lead to silos. Imagine about stacked ranked as explained above so, if you have multiple PBIs then obviously you’ll be dealing with multiple same priorities that lead to miss-communication and unhealthy backlog impact teams effectiveness in planning. So, Scrum is pretty clear – One Product, One Backlog ensure always one item will be the topmost priority.

I’ll cover how to scale and maintain PBL in a scaled agile environment. Coming soon my another article to cover how to scale and maintain product backlog in scaled agile implementation

Wrapping up …

Managing a healthy backlog is key for successful product management and development. It maintains and ensures flow for continuous delivery with built-in-quality.

But poorly managed backlog will break the flow and push the agile team to deliver poor quality and technical debts. PO role is extremely critical who continuously building and managing backlog but never pushes PBI to agile teams. Remember agile teams always implements PBI at their own pace. Therefore healthy backlog helps everyone to be successful, happy, and motivated.

Always remember one product should have one backlog! Happy Reading & leave your comment for my learning 🙂

Some useful articles below for your reading too

This content was originally published here.


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