3 Tips for Grooming Your Product Backlog Effectively

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A product backlog is a prioritized inventory of features, defects, or technical work that has yet to be worked on. It should be work that is considered valuable from the product owner's perspective. It can also include ideas that have been identified and, in some cases, prioritized to include in future releases.

When working on your product roadmap, you also need a spot for all the features that you want to implement, but are not yet tied to a release. This is typically called a product backlog. As features get prioritized, they should be aligned with product strategy. This ensures that when a release is finalized and shipped to development, the whole product team is working on what matters most to customers.

It's important to remember that each backlog item represents a customer request -- even if it's an internal customer or team member. The request represents a need that a customer expects you to fulfill within your roadmap. If it cannot be fulfilled within your plans, then the customer will need to fulfill their request goal some other way.

This is why an efficient, scalable backlog management process and product backlog template is required to remain responsive as a product owner. It is also necessary to execute impactful and efficient release management.

So, regular product backlog grooming is necessary. But the truth is that managing your product backlog can be overwhelming. It is easy for product backlogs to seem out of hand. That's why it helps to consider your product backlog in three specific terms.

A product backlog should be:

Accessible
Even the most skilled product manager will be baffled by what to select next within a long list of product requirements. And even a few dozen will seem like too many to review. Utilize organizational categories or tagging of backlog items so that you can retrieve a certain subset of backlog requests at any time. This makes your backlog accessible.

For example, if your executive sponsor often asks you what you have planned for a particular buyer persona in Q3, this is a good indicator that your backlog features should have a persona tie-in. If you will need to respond to the sales team on which opportunity requests will move forward, you should be keeping customer or opportunity reflected in your backlog.

Strategic
Some may say that a backlog directs your roadmap; in fact, it's the reverse. Your strategy roadmap is the journey you wish to take with your product. It drives selecting items from the backlog that contribute to the completion of that journey.

You have already done the legwork to create your journey and strategy; use these strategic categories and their relative product impact to refine, or groom, your backlog to roadmap readiness. Leveraging your core strategy to groom your backlog will tame even the most unwieldy (or inherited) archive of dusty requests. So, categorize your backlog based on how each request rolls up to the established strategy for your product.

Inclusive
Remember that your product journey may not just include features. Your backlog may also include technical training for the scrum team, refactoring or re-architecture efforts, and other non-feature projects that may better position the team supporting your product. Include these items, but utilize the same grooming process to review them.

Add feature types or product domain areas of categorization to your backlog to easily identify these items. If these items start to indicate a large effort that must be done, reflect this in your product strategy as a major initiative rolling up to a goal. This avoids "missing resources" in release management, because everything that can be worked on is represented.

Product backlogs feel like black holes. That is why remembering their high-level value is so helpful.

As with all aspects of managing product, it helps to approach backlogs by staying grounded in what you aim to achieve. Start by remembering the purpose your product backlog serves. It will help you approach your backlog with renewed confidence -- and get to work building what matters.