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When to Break up your Product Backlog

Published on 11th June 2010

The product backlog is meant to be a simple tool that allows product owners to express detailed product decisions and direct the work of the development team. But in practice, product backlogs can grow big and become large and unwieldy. Break up your product backlog can address this issue, as this article explains.

The product backlog is a beautifully simple artefact – a prioritized list of the outstanding work necessary to bring the product to life. In reality, many product backlogs are large and unwieldy – rather than simple and concise. If you regularly groom your product backlog but still struggle with its size and complexity, then you may have a backlog that contains items from more than one product: requirements describing different products but kept in the same backlog. This may be due to one Scrum team developing several products concurrently or creating a new software system while maintaining its predecessor.

If that’s the case, break up your product backlog and create a separate backlog for each product. This will not only result in smaller backlogs that are easier to groom. But it will allow you to better prioritize which product takes priority – the development of the new software or the maintenance of the old system, for instance – thereby making the corresponding portfolio management decisions explicit.

You can simplify your product backlog even further by focussing on the next product version and by minimising the number of items describing future releases. As the future is uncertain and markets are likely to change, carrying many future requirements does not only bloat your product backlog; it is wasteful and makes it difficult to adapt your product to the market response. Have the courage to weed out items that are not essential to creating the next product version. Simplify, prune, and strive for order. Discarded items will come back to you if they do become relevant in the future.

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