Product backlogs and how they optimize your Agile experience

Product backlogs

Project management centered around static to do lists isn’t an efficient way to run a team. To do lists can easily become disordered and disorganized. This leads to poor prioritization of work, which leads to poorly coordinated and unfocused teams. All of this saps the efficiency from your team and makes them less adaptable.

But there’s a way you can keep your team on task, up to speed, and focused — a product backlog.

This post will explain:

What is a product backlog?

A product backlog is a prioritized list of project tasks that might be needed to deliver a product. Backlogs are used to organize teams around more than just software development today, so some have adopted terms like “project backlog” or “Agile backlog.”

A backlog provides better alignment and guidance than a traditional to-do list because items are continually prioritized — reorganized, added, or removed as needed. When team members are ready for more work, they can pull tasks from the product backlog and always be working on the right task. Instead of working your way down your to-do list one item at a time, a backlog allows you to work on what’s currently most important.

There is a difference between a product backlog and a sprint backlog. The product backlog is the single source of all possible tasks. A sprint backlog, as in Scrum, includes items taken from the product backlog that will be addressed in the next Sprint.

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Four types of product backlog items

There are four types of items most commonly included in a product backlog.


The main benefits of a backlog

Maintaining a product backlog is key for Agile project management. Here are some of the benefits of building and maintaining a product backlog.

How to create a product backlog

The product owner is in charge of the backlog. It’s their responsibility to create and maintain the list of backlog items.

Prerequisites to creating a product backlog — the two Rs

Before creating the backlog, the team should know the general requirements of the project and already have a roadmap for developing it — these are the two Rs of Agile backlogs. The requirements are the function, services, and features of the product. The roadmap is the high-level plan of action for the product.

With the two Rs clearly established, here’s how to create a project backlog:

  1. Collect items. Start by collecting the tasks, to dos, and upcoming work you and your team have already identified. These could already be part of the team’s or individual members’ to do lists. Gather the tasks from all these different places into one source.
  2. Clarify items. Make sure you and the team thoroughly understand each item. Find out why it was requested, what the specific requirements are, and how it will add value. Remember to use the product roadmap to guide what is added to and what stays in the backlog.
  3. Prioritize items. Arrange the items in order of importance. There are several ways to do this. You could complete the most complex tasks first, or you could prioritize based on urgency. Some teams prioritize based on the level of impact vs. effort. Others prioritize based on business value — the work’s effect on revenue or savings. The method you choose will depend on the type of project you’re working on.
  4. Manage the backlog. To make sure the priorities are up to date it’s important to actively manage the backlog. This is called “backlog refinement.” You’ll continually add items to the backlog as new ideas or requests come in. You’ll also need to remove and modify items as needed.

All these steps happen during the backlog creation and as an ongoing process during the project’s entire lifecycle.

Tips and best practices for managing a product backlog

With new requests and items coming in all the time, it’s easy for the backlog to get out of control, so it’s essential for the product owner to keep on top of it. Here are some best practices for ongoing backlog refinement.

Getting started with product backlogs

The product backlog is an essential part of Agile project management — having a prioritized and refined list of tasks increases your team’s flexibility and efficiency. Team members know exactly what they need to do and when they need to do it.

To set up your product backlog, start collecting and listing tasks that still need to get done. Consult your whole team to find out what they’re working on and what’s coming up next. And don’t worry about making mistakes — the beauty of the backlog is that it can always be changed to adapt to current needs.

When you’re ready to get really Agile, Adobe Workfront can help. Resource management, configurable dashboards, and native integrations help you plan, iterate, and continually improve your work.

To see how Workfront makes Agile project management easy, watch this overview video or request a demo.