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10 Tips to Fully Leverage the Product Backlog

Published on 2nd November 2016

Working with the product backlog can be challenging, and many Scrum product owners wrestle with overly long and detailed backlogs. This article shares ten practical tips that help you take full advantage of your product backlog.

Tip #1: Complement your Product Backlog with a Product Roadmap

Use a roadmap to sketch the overall journey you want to take your product on. State the upcoming major releases with their goals or benefits. Then derive your product backlog from the roadmap and use the goals to discover the right backlog items. This ensures that your backlog is aligned with the product strategy, and it helps you decide which items should be added to the product backlog and which should not.

Product Roadmap vs Product Backlog

Tip #2: Focus your Backlog on the Next Major Release

Use the product backlog as a tactical tool that states the product details–including epics and user stories–that have to be implemented to deliver the next major release. This results in a concise backlog, which is comparatively easy to update and change. The longer-term growth of your product should be captured on the product roadmap.

Tip #3: Start with a Short and Sketchy Product Backlog

Particularly when you create a new product or new features and keep the lower-priority items coarse-grained. Use the user and customer feedback to decide which feature to implement, to evolve the product backlog, and to refine its items. It’s OK, however, to have a longer, more detailed backlog when your product is mature and your focus is on incremental changes and bug fixes.

Tip #4. Collaborate with the Development Team

Involve the team members in the product backlog work. This allows you to benefit from their knowledge and creativity and discover technical risks and dependencies. It also increases the understanding and buy-in of the team members and results in better, clearer requirements.

Tip #5: Say No

Decline ideas and requirements that do not help you meet the release goal and move you closer to realising the product vision. This ensures that your product has a clear value-proposition, and it prevents your product from getting bloated. If the idea or requirement is important but cannot be realised in the next few sprints, then consider adding it to the product roadmap.

Tip #6: Look beyond User Stories

While user stories and functional requirements in general are important, they are usually not enough. Also consider the user interaction, the nonfunctional qualities of your product, and the user interface and capture them in your product backlog.

Tip #7: Prioritise your Backlog

Use uncertainty and risk to decide how soon an item should be implemented. Addressing uncertain items early on allows you to test your ideas, to fail fast, and to learn how to continue. Complement risk with cost-benefit and take into account dependencies when necessary.

Tip #8: Proactively Manage your Product Backlog

Regularly groom and refine it together with the development team. Analyse the feedback and data collected from exposing the latest product increment to the users and apply the new insights to the backlog: remove and add new items, and update existing ones. This maximises the chances of building a product that users really want and it keeps the product backlog up to date and concise.

Tip #9: Get the Backlog Ready

Break larger items into smaller ones by leveraging the insights gained from exposing product increments to the users. Ensure that the high-priority items are ready for sprint planning: the items should be clear, feasible, and testable. This facilitates a realistic commitment, and it helps the team turn the items into a product increment without having to constantly ask you during the sprint what the user story means and if there is something missing.

Tip #10: Make your Product Backlog Visible and Easily Accessible

Try a paper-based product backlog and put it on the wall. Such a backlog offers several benefits:

  • It is clearly visible and creates transparency–assuming that it’s on the team room wall and people are colocated.
  • It alerts you when your backlog is becoming too big, as you will be running out of wall space.

A tool like my Product Canvas helps you structure and visualise your backlog.

Sample Product Canvas

If using a paper-based product backlog is not possible, employ an electronic tool that is easy to use; or consider a mixed approach with some of the items on the wall and others–like the high-priority stories–in a tool like JIRA.

Post a Comment or Ask a Question


  • Tseten Gongya says:

    Hello Roman,

    I am a big fan and find the resources in your blog very helpful. I’m dealing with the dilemma of how to incorporate a physical board along side the use of a digital tool for backlog tracking (as the business requires us to use one due to the nature of a particular project). I wondering, from your own experience, how you can best make this work without creating too much ‘overhead’ of tracking (either for the team, Scrum Master or PO) as the team should be focused on the actual work and not the tracking of it. That being said, the way they are currently using both is causing some confusion as team members might update one but not the other and vice versa.

    Your feedback is appreciated!

  • tushar says:

    Hi, thank you for this post I agree with your point that Use a roadmap to sketch the overall journey you want to take your product on. State the upcoming major releases with their goals or benefits. very useful information

  • Kaya says:

    What helps me the most in case of backlogs is the deep analysis of the tasks waiting – as you said, DEEP. Prioritising sounds obvious but is ommited very often.
    I’m to try creating dimensions like described on here: , what do you think about this method? Have you tried it?

    • Thanks for your comment Kaya. if you struggle with a long product backlog, the try the following: Limit it to the next major release or three months; keep the lower-priority items coarse-grained; say no to ideas and requirements that are not moving you closer to your release goal and/or vision. If you are interested in experimenting with structured product backlogs, take a look at my product canvas. Hope this helps!

  • Insanely valuable post. Thank you!

  • Andreas says:

    Hi Roman,

    all good points! Some I already had in mind, others not yet. The one with vertical products will be really hard, I think. Ten years of component-focused development and product management will be hard to overcome. However, product portfolio management is what I miss most.

    Thanks a lot!

  • Andreas says:

    In my current situation, I have at least seven products in my backlog. There is a mix of customer-facing products and software components that are required to make the rest work. Hence, maintenance stories exist along with product features, customer requests and bugs. Unfortunately, I act more as a proxy PO since we have product managers for most of the products . However, I am also missing roadmaps that I could use as input for product-based backlogs. I am seriously thinking to switch to Kanban for the maintenance team and use Scrum for roadmap-based product dev only.

    If you have any advise, that would be great!

    Thanks for sharing your know-how anyway!

    • Hi Andreas, It sounds like you are facing four challenges: How do you best slice your products? How do you capture how each product is likely to develop? Which process is best suited for developing new features, which for maintenance? And finally, who owns the products?

      To tackle the issues, I suggest you get together with the product managers and and the team. Decide how you want to set-up each products to enable effective development. Consider using vertically aligned products, products that have a user-facing part as well as the middle tear or backend components necessary to provide the desired functionality. Capture each product in a separate product backlog and create a product roadmap that communicates how the product is likely to grow in the next 12-18 months. Decide which process is best suited to develop each product. For products that are being maintained, a Kanban-based process is likely to be more appropriate than Scrum. Finally, tackle the ownership piece. Discuss who manages which product, and who manages the product portfolio.

      Does this help?

  • Nina Madeira says:

    Excellent article. Thank you for sharing!

  • Agile Scout says:

    Solid article. Thanks for sharing!

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