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Product Backlog – An Exemplar Guide for Beginners

In this day and age, prioritizing and organizing have become the two most important buzzwords that help us to lead a blissful and stress-free life. Right from Sunrise to the Moonrise, we are all burdened with lots of tasks and responsibilities – be it in our workspace or at our home. As a consequence, this can be overwhelming at times. But, prioritizing, categorizing and organizing these tasks makes our lives easier and more productive. In essence, these activities have become the crux of our daily lives.

The same phenomenon can be applied in today’s Software Industry as well. Following the Agile framework is the latest Mantra in Project Management. The Scrum artifacts in the Agile environment help self-organized teams to maximize their productivity and ultimately deliver a high-quality product quickly.

One of the key Scrum Artifacts is a Product Backlog. A Product Backlog plays a major role in the product development process. It has great significance in designing the Product Roadmap. So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the Product Backlog and see how it helps organizations in planning and prioritizing the essential tasks in Agile Project Management.

What is a Product Backlog?

A Product Backlog is a list of tasks, items or deliverables that has to be done/completed by the Scrum team in order to finish the project or build a product successfully.

Having said that, a Product Backlog is not just a mere list of items or tasks. It is rather an organized, prioritized and categorized list of all the items/tasks that have to be done/completed as part of the product Roadmap.

A Product Backlog should be crystal clear and should be free from ambiguous data which could hamper the success of the project outcome.

Who creates a Product Backlog?

The Product owner is the main contributor to the Product Backlog. While creating a Product Backlog, the Product Owner keeps the goals and vision of the project in mind. He keeps a close tab on the backlog and ensures that its contents are relevant, prioritized and up to date with the latest changes with respect to the product. To do so, a Product Owner takes the help of developers, key stakeholders, customers and the scrum team involved in the project to decide which feature is important, which feature adds the most value to the client, which has to be prioritized and what items can wait for the next sprint.

Therefore, the Product Owner with the help of the cross-functional team is responsible for maintaining and categorizing the Product Backlog.

Types of items present in a Product Backlog

A Product Backlog structure can vary from team to team, organization to organization depending on the type of product that is being dealt with. For example, a team that is developing a brand-new product in the market will have different kinds of items in its Product Backlog when compared to a team that is enhancing an existing Product.

Some of the items/user stories that are included in a Product Backlog are:

· New features or Functionalities

· Business Requirements

· Functional Requirements

· Enhancements of existing features

· Bug Fixes

· Change requests

· Research features

Key Product Backlog Item Attributes

Each item of a Product Backlog may include various item attributes depending on the needs and requirements of the team/organization. All the attributes associated with a particular backlog item must be written clearly and understandably to all the members of the scrum team that are involved in the product.

The following are some of the key attributes associated with the Backlog item:

· Name – It defines the name of the task/item.

· Description – It gives a brief description of the backlog item.

· Activity – The Scrum team can add their comments or actions performed on this item in the Activity column.

· Label – This is used to classify the items based on the type and organize them categorically.

· Acceptance Criteria – This attribute is mostly used on items that are under development or testing. It describes the scope that the item covers.

· Definition of Done (DoD) – It defines the conditions or the criteria that have to be fulfilled in order to move the item to the ‘Done’ state.

· Priority of the item – It helps in classifying the items of the Product Backlog based on their urgency and Priority.

· Complexity – It helps in cataloging the items based on their complexity and dependencies with respect to other items.

· Members – It has the names of the team members who are involved in the project.

· Dates – It specifies the overall time taken by the scrum team to achieve the milestones or complete the tasks throughout the duration of the project.

Below is a sample example of a Backlog item with its attributes:

Nature of a Product Backlog

A Product Backlog is built on the requirements that are initially discussed during the early phases of product development and it keeps evolving as and when more requirements come into the picture. Therefore, a Product Backlog is seldom a complete list of To-Do items/tasks. It is dynamic in nature and is continually changing to make itself more relevant, applicable and useful. Therefore, a Product backlog is a flexible list of items that can be modified and refined further.

Difference between a Product Backlog and a To-Do List of a Kanban Board

Sometimes it is very easy to get confused and mix up the concepts of a Product Backlog and a To-Do list. But there is a visible difference between both of them.

A Product Backlog is a dynamic list. Therefore, it keeps evolving and doesn’t have a fixed set of items/user stories in it. It is kind of a wish list of all the items that are good to have for creating a new product or improving an existing product. Since the product backlog contains items that can be done over multiple sprints, these items do not require immediate action.

Whereas, a To-Do list has tasks or action items that have to be finished in a given time-frame or in a particular sprint. It is more like a checklist of items that have to be done by the Agile team in order to reach the goal and yield a successful outcome of the project.

Only those action items that are been taken up by the agile team in the upcoming sprint are pushed from the Product Backlog to the To-Do list.

Tips to create an efficient Product Backlog

One can follow certain guidelines in order to create an efficient, well-organized Product Backlog. Below are some of them:

· Collaboration is the Key – Collaborating with the prime stakeholders, developers, testers and other important members of the Scrum team and taking their interests and opinions into consideration while creating a Product backlog is the secret Mantra of success in creating an efficient Backlog.

· Check for Task Dependency while prioritizing – Sometimes some tasks or action items are interdependent. I.e., Task B can be completed only after finishing Task A. So, in such scenarios, it is always logical to prioritize Task A over Task B.

· Keep the Product Roadmap in mind – While chalking out the Product Backlog, always try to keep the Product Roadmap in mind. The product roadmap helps in giving us a clear idea about the purpose and vision of the project and aids in staying on track and accomplishing the goals of the project.

· Update the Product Backlog frequently – Since the product backlog is always evolving, it is important to update it with the latest changes as frequently as possible.

Summing Up

A Product Backlog helps in prioritizing and organizing the tasks and plays a crucial role in shaping the Product Roadmap. It acts as a guide to the Project managers, Product Owners and the scrum team and aids in building a great product. A Product Backlog is therefore an indispensable artifact for the success of the project. A well-organized Product Backlog serves as a lifeline to the scrum teams and makes implementing Agile methodologies easier.

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