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5 Easy Steps to Create a Product Backlog

October 7, 2021

The Scrum Guide has a lot to say about the Product Backlog, and rightly so. It's pivotal to everything a Scrum Team does. But one thing the Scrum Guide doesn't tell you, is how you create a Product Backlog. So, here's one way you can do exactly that.


A Product Backlog (made easy)

The Product Backlog and the Scrum Guide

As you may know, the Product Backlog is:

  • An ordered list of everything needed to create a product
  • The single source of requirements for the product
  • Consists of Product Backlog items, each of which contains a Size, Order and Description attribute.

But the Scrum Guide makes no mention of when, or how, to create the Product Backlog. It's up to you to decide what technique you'd like to use.

My Technique for Creating a Product Backlog

There are a number of techniques that you can use to create a Product Backlog. I'm going to share one that works well for me and is in common use.

Creating a Product Backlog - Task 1 - Call a meeting

Schedule a one-day meeting. Invite the Scrum Team(s) involved and some stakeholders. It may be a good idea to split the meeting over two days so people don't become fatigued.

Creating a Product Backlog - Task 2 - Functionality

The task here is for attendees to think of functionality needed for the Product. We all know that you cannot think of everything up-front but there comes a time where further pondering is of little value. So, ask the attendees for a time-box. One hour often works well and can easily elicit 300 ideas.

With the time-box started, ask the attendees to think about the functionality for the Product. Once they have an idea, write it on a single Index Card and stick it up on a work area, such as a wall.

One Idea. One card. Simple. We don't want any detail at this stage.

Creating a Product Backlog - Task 3 - Remove Duplicates

The next task is to remove duplicate ideas. As before, set a time-box. Twenty minutes is a good starting point. What I like about this part of the technique is that, if any cliques had formed in the first part of the meeting, they were all brought together in the search for duplicate ideas.

Creating a Product Backlog - Task 4 - The Top Twenty

Agree another time-box and ask the attendees to select the top twenty ideas. This may prove difficult. Stakeholders in particular can get quite passionate at this stage. What's important here are the discussions. If you end up with more or less than the top twenty, it's ok to let it go. Because you'll end up with the most important items.

Creating a Product Backlog - Task 5 - SOD It

The next task is to add a Size, Order and Description to the top twenty items. There are different techniques for doing all of these and I'll cover that in a separate article. If it's important to you, you might also consider adding a reference for Value and / or Risk as well.

The End Result

I've consistently found that six hours to a day is long enough to draft a decent Product Backlog. We should also have enough detailed items for the first three Sprints so we're in good shape to start sprinting.

I've seen this technique work for one Scrum Team and I've seen it work for ten Scrum Teams. The skill is in keeping it simple and focused.

If you'd like to learn more about Product Management techniques, why not join one of my Product Owner classes? You'll discover additional techniques such as User Story Mapping, ROI calculations, Business Canvases, Estimation and Valuing to name a few.

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