Agile Software Development

How to Make Smart Choices for a Product Backlog: 4 Tips

A product backlog has actionable items that you aim to complete in a sprint. However, people often slow down when there are too many items. In this article at Mountain Goat Software, Mike Cohn discusses 4 tips to make a smart product backlog.

Making Smart Choices for Your Product Backlog

When you have too many items in a product backlog, it can pose three major problems.

  • Difficulty in prioritization and productivity loss due to working on duplicate items
  • Progress seems scarce when teams complete 10 out 1,000 items instead of 10 out of 50
  • Reduced visibility and relevance of items

Following are the 4 tips to make smart choices for a product backlog:

Dispose of Redundant Items: Throw away items from the product backlog which are unnecessary. You can always come up with a plan B if any of the disposed of items need immediate resolution. You have a timeline, budget, and resources to control, so keep off the tasks that you can do later.

Delay Items That Lack Clarity: It is sensible to hold back items that you do not have clarity in. This helps you avoid rework on those tasks in the future. The author keeps these items separate, in a ‘holding tank’. So, the product backlog has items that the product owner would want the team to prioritize. Meanwhile, the tank has items that the team must complete but the product owner has no idea how to proceed.

Review the Backlog Regularly: The product owner must regularly review the product backlog to achieve results faster. You can move items in the holding tank or make the team work on them in the next sprint. This reduces the number of items considerably.

Avoid Adding Optional Items: If you are not going to work on certain items this sprint, do not add them in the product backlog. Product owners usually add items to avoid conflicts. However, the best way would be to say no upfront rather than rush the team to work on them unnecessarily.

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