Building your Product Backlog

Keep this in mind: The bigger the product backlog, the easier it is to plan ahead and work on the most valuable item for your product (or client) - and plan strategically.

  1. Begin with the end in mind
  2. Break down this vision into high-level elements
  3. Break down these high-level elements further into Items small enough to be completed in a single iteration
  4. Write the appropriate Items as User-Stories
  5. Enter details, such as: A description, an importance level, Estimated business value, etc.
  6. Roughly estimate the level of effort needed to complete that story in Story-Points
  7. Break-down into tasks
  8. Prioritize the Backlog

Begin with the end in mind

You are either building a new product or starting a project, let's call it an new Initiative. You are doing that for yourself, your company or for a client.

What is that Initiative? What should it look like in the end? What does it do? What are the expected results? Who does it benefit to? Does anyone do something even remotely similar?

Describe it and answer these questions as best as possible. Hopefully, you already have a marketing team who's answered some of these questions and you have a product/market fit.


Break down this vision into high-level elements

Now break this down into high-level features or functionality. Researching competitors is a good way to formulate these features, as long as it does not hinder your teams' creativity. These are often refered to as Epics.


Break down theses high-level elements further into Items

More often than not, these high-level features need to be broken down into smaller, more manageable items, small enough to be completed within a single iteration. This means decomposing the Feature into logical components. Often, they are different facets of the same feature.


Write the appropriate Items as User-Stories

This step can be merged with the previous and can help breaking down your Epics. 

"What is well-conceived is expressed clearly and the words to say it flow easily." - Nicholas Boileau

By writing the Items as User-Stories, it enunciates cleary what needs to be achieved. The typical formula to do this is the following:

As a [ role ], I want [ goal / need / desire ] (optionally: so that [ benefit ])

  • As a user, I want to search for my customers by their first and last names.
  • As a non-administrative user, I want to modify my own schedules but not the schedules of other users.

The Product Owner is responsible for writing clear and concise user-stories usually following the "INVEST" method : Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small, Testable.


Detail your user-stories

The better the description and the clearer your user-stories, the less impediments and road-blocks you'll get during production. Enter details, such as:

  • A longer description and requirements of the item
  • An importance level from Nice to have to Critical
  • Estimated business value

Later on, these details will help you prioritize your backlog objectively as to be able to produce and deliver the most possible value, in the shortest amount of time (or least effort) possible.


Roughly estimate your Stories

After you have detailed your stories, roughly estimate the level of effort needed to complete that story in Story-Points.

Whether you use story points or not, the process is similar.

Pick one of the smallest user-stories in your backlog - ideally one that everyone in the team can relate to - and estimate it. When using story points, that will usually be a 1-point story, When using hours, it will usually be smaller than 5 hours. Then use this story as a benchmark to estimate the other stories. It doesn't need to be exact (yet), your team will later proceed to estimate the stories with more accuracy.


Break-down into tasks

Once the Backlog is prioritized, it's time to request help from the scrum team to break down the stories into task, assign these tasks to the right individual. Have the entire team estimate the time needed for these tasks. If the team's estimate is significantly different, discuss with the Product owner and negotiate if necessary. If the story is estimated to be too big, it can be broken down by the team.


Prioritize the Backlog

Now comes the time to prioritize your backlog. This is one of the most important aspects of the Product Owner's job and an entire section is devoted to this. Here are the take-aways.

There are multiple ways to prioritize, depending on your objectives. Most of them will revolve around a Cost/benefit ratio or simply said: "best bang for the buck".

  • Always start with the minimal Marketable Product feature set
  • Agencies usually value: Most business value delivered with least effort
  • Companies usually value: Most Critical features delivered in the least amount of time

"Business value" or "Criticality" of a story are sometimes hard to evaluate. Have the end-user help you evaluate it, they'll appreciate it and provide invaluable feedback.

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