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Navigating the Future with a Fine-Tuned Product Backlog

August 17, 2023

As a seasoned Agile consultant, I find myself amidst conversations about the mechanics of a successful Agile project. Today, I focus on an essential yet often underappreciated aspect - the Product Backlog. A well-ordered Product Backlog that is comprehensible to all stakeholders is a critical beacon that illuminates the path to a transparent future.

Navigating the Future

At the foundational level, the Product Backlog is simply a list of items required for a product, encompassing features, enhancements, and fixes. These items, sometimes called ‘User Stories’, are critical to understanding what needs to be built. The Product Backlog must be seen as a living document, which evolves as the market conditions, customer needs, and product goals change.

As we dive deeper into this subject, it’s vital to recognize the significance of ordering the contents of the Product Backlog. Ordering entails sequencing Backlog Items based on value, risk, size, and learning. This exercise ensures that the team focuses on the most valuable and relevant items first. 

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From Professional Scrum User Experience

The next layer to unravel is the importance of well-articulated Backlog Items. Crafting these Backlog Items with sufficient details ensures all team members and stakeholders easily understand them. This exercise should be iterative, incorporating feedback to refine and improve the Backlog Items.

Moving further, let’s examine the refinement of the Product Backlog. Refinement is an ongoing process to ensure the Backlog Items are manageable and can be feasibly completed in an Iteration. The word refinement represents any work done by the team on the Product Backlog rather than on the increment itself. It involves breaking down more oversized items into smaller, more manageable chunks and continually reassessing their order.

One of the activities that happen during refinement is sizing. Sizing involves understanding the size of each Backlog Item. This size understanding assists in determining how many Backlog Items can be completed in a single Iteration and aids in release planning.

Now, with a well-ordered and refined Product Backlog in place, we pave the way for a continuous orienteering process. This is where the real magic happens. It enables the team to set their sights on the next tactical objective consistently, often called a Sprint Goal. This, in turn, guides them towards the intermediate strategic aim, the Product Goal, and eventually, the overarching strategic goal or vision.

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The delineation of goals can be articulated in many ways, while you can choose your own OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are quite popular and add value if used well. If used poorly they can be a significant impediment to value delivery. The value of OKRs lies in aligning objective data points of critical results with the subjective outcome of the objective. It’s essential to remember that while data and OKRs offer guidance, they are not constraints. The paramount focus should always be on the outcomes that furnish greater value to the customer.

In conclusion, an ordered Product Backlog serves as an astrolabe that guides your vessel through the murky waters of product development. If well refined through order, discussion, and sizing, it becomes an indispensable instrument for navigation, continually orienteering towards goals that ultimately culminate in a value-driven product.

As stewards of Agile Product Management, let’s uphold the art and science of meticulously curating a Product Backlog. It’s not merely a list, but a compendium of aspirations that build the bridge to a transparent and flourishing future.

If you are struggling to manage your backlog we can help, you can book a new Professional Scrum Product Backlog Management Skills class or you can contact us for help with a free consultation with my team. Because you don't just need agility, you need Naked Agility.

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