Product Backlog Management – 10 Tips for Product Managers

Product Backlog Management- tips for product managers

The importance of product backlog management is discussed in this article along with our top tips for backlog optimization.

A product backlog is an essential component for your Agile development team. It is a set of requirements received from business and formulated into development tasks.
In highly-competitive conditions, it is important to concentrate on the highest priorities, especially when product ideas and tasks begin to “snowball.” What can you do to avoid chaos and mismanagement in your product backlog? Read on to find out.

What is a Product Backlog?

In the world of product management, the backlog is a set of tasks needed to complete the final product. Let’s call it a “wish list,” which contains short descriptions of the desired product functionality.

Typically, the product backlog is reviewed by a product owner during the sprint planning meeting. Here is where the top backlog items are discussed for prioritization.

It’s important that product owners describe the tasks in clear, customer-focused language without technical specifications. Projects start with jotting down specific items needed for backlog prioritization. This backlog is then used for the first sprint and eventually begins to grow and change. For more information on how product managers and product owners collaborate on the backlog, check out Agile for Product Managers and Product Owners Training.

What Does a Typical Product Backlog Include?

The product backlog contains product features (descriptions of desired functionality in the form of user stories), possible bugs and challenging issues, technical work items (insightful research), and knowledge acquisition (upgrades of workstations).

A proper backlog is dynamic, constantly improved upon, and is never really “complete.”

The prioritization of backlog items are defined by their business value. The higher priority an item is, the sooner a developer team will work on it. Typically, these tasks have more detailed explanations associated with them, unlike lower priority items. It’s crucial to make these clear and easy-to-understand for non-technical stakeholders.

All product backlog items are estimated by developers. Their estimations determine the number of items that will be selected for the upcoming sprint.

Product Backlog vs. Sprint Backlog: What’s the Difference?

  • A product backlog contains all necessary items to complete the entire project. It breaks down tasks into a series of steps for the development team.
  • A sprint backlog is a subset of the product backlog. It contains only those items that can be completed during the sprint and will chip away at the many tasks on the backlog gradually.

The complexity of the project determines the tasks listed on the sprint backlog.

Managing your product backlog can be a real challenge, even for the most experienced product owners and product managers.

Caution – your product backlog can grow quickly. There may not be enough time to track new competitors’ features. Users can suggest too many improvements and advice. Team members can propose new ideas frequently. This can make ideal product backlog management difficult.

Product Backlog Management: 10 Tips for Optimization

1. Start with the end in mind

To ensure proper product backlog management, it’s best to clearly define and validate a product strategy. It will help develop an appropriate product vision.

Product strategy usually involves positioning, market opportunities research, target customers, competitors’ analysis, etc. It describes customers’ needs and how you plan to satisfy those needs. Based on the overall product strategy, the product manager and product owner should agree on a product vision that will guide prioritizing the backlog. It should clearly state the key benefits for the customer, and how the product is differentiated from the competition.

Focusing your product backlog management on the upcoming release is a strategic tool where all product details, epics and user stories that have to be implemented are described. The longer-term growth of the product should be fixed in a product timeline.

Product Backlog Management- validate product strategy

2. Make the backlog manageable

A too exhaustive product backlog is a common mistake. Perhaps, it’s difficult to realize, but sometimes backlogs can contain hundreds of items.

If the backlog is unorganized and includes too many items, it becomes difficult to manage and loses its transparency. It also becomes difficult to predict where the product is heading. Product managers and product owners must work on maximizing outcome by keeping the backlog manageable.
Decide what not to do. It may not be easy to say “no”, but sometimes it is the best solution.

To keep your product backlog manageable, it’s best to follow these simple tips:

  • Review the backlog periodically
  • Delete items you’ll never do
  • Keep items you are not ready for off the backlog
  • Do not add tasks unless you plan to do them soon
  • Always prioritize

3. Visualize a timeline

A simple but powerful timeline is the best way to visualize the overall strategy for your product. We can consider the timeline the “basement” of successful backlog management. There are many helpful tools for visualizing timelines.

backlog management

4. Improve collaboration

Successful backlog management means consistent and frequent collaboration between product managers and the development team. To help get you prepped for this, check out our essential tips on people skills for product owners.

Encourage your team to participate in backlog discussions, and ask questions. This will increase their understanding, increase the buy-in of everyone, and ultimately lead to clearer requirements.

5. Keep stakeholders updated

A product owner is a key stakeholder and should provide backlog transparency to all other stakeholders.

This allows stakeholders to review the latest updates, current status and provide useful feedback.

6. Arrange grooming meetings regularly

Regular grooming (refinement) meetings help to keep your product backlog healthy. Grooming is critical as it increases the chances of creating a product that adds real value to the users.

What is backlog grooming?
Any product, like a person, requires attention and care. To achieve this, product owners and teams should always keep the backlog “clean” and optimized. Backlog grooming should be a permanent event based on in-depth analysis and clear action.

During the refinement, you can add details, estimates, and prioritization to the product items. This requires collaborative work between the product owner and developers. The product backlog is built based on discussion rather than documentation. The grooming should not cover more than 10% of the working time of developers.

The main goal is to discuss the current backlog, determine and discuss possible optimization. During the refinement, you can:

  • Write new user stories
  • Re-prioritize tasks
  • Delete irrelevant user stories
  • Add new features, set new priorities
  • Improve the priorities of previously described user stories
  • Break down user stories into smaller ones
  • Revise testing criteria
  • Analyze time and individual assessments
  • Adjust estimates, etc.

7. Look beyond user stories

Although user stories are key, they may not be enough. Pay attention to the nonfunctional qualities of the product, user interaction, and the interfaces and try to represent them in the backlog.

8. Review the timeline

Review and adjust it regularly. Changes are likely to occur frequently. Try to update the timeline every 3 weeks to every 3 months, depending on your own release cycles.

9. Set priorities

Prioritization is the key point in backlog management and should be clearly aligned with the mutually agreed upon product vision and KPIs.

Available prioritization methodologies and popular frameworks will assist you in ordering the ideas and plan iterations more easily. The Value vs Efforts matrix is a great tool.

Comparing the combination of Value and Efforts in each task, you’ll prioritize the tasks better and choose the most important of them for development.

product backlog

10. Visualize it

Hopefully, there are no fans of using a paper-based backlog on the wall among our readers. Nowadays, there are many smart ready solutions for visualizing prioritization and product backlog management.

Multifunctional product management software will alert you when the backlog is becoming too big. Here’s how it can be visualized with the help of a smart PM platform,

backlog management
product backlog

Final Thoughts

No matter what product or service is being developed, backlog optimization is an integral part of management functionality.

Professional product owners can better manage a backlog following our easy tips, in collaboration with their product manager, and with the help of professional backlog management tools. With this approach, you can change managing your product backlog from a routine process into a pleasant process.

What is your experience with product backlog management? Feel free to share your insights : )

About the Author

Pavel Kukhnavets
Product Marketing at – all-in-one product management platform for growing companies.

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