Seven Product Backlog Mistakes to Avoid

The product aggregator is a simple but powerful tool to capture and modify detailed product decisions and direct the work of the development team. Unfortunately, effectively delaying use can be challenging. This article discusses seven common product accumulation errors to help you identify and correct them.

The accumulation of products is too large

A few years ago, I was asked to help a healthcare company in its agile transition and its impact on product management. One of the challenges that the agile transition team was concerned about was choosing the right product aggregation tool, which at first seemed strange to me. But when I was told that the sabra in question contained over 40,000 items, I could see that there was a problem.

Admittedly, this is without a doubt the largest backlog of products I have come across so far. But I find it not uncommon to encounter a lag ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand items. But accumulating such products is difficult to understand, let alone prioritize and update. This is especially problematic for young products and those experiencing greater change, such as life cycle extension, as their accumulation tends to be volatile and requires frequent and sometimes larger adjustments.

Therefore, you should strive to keep your product aggregate as concise as possible whenever your product faces uncertainty and change – whether it is related to the market, business or technology. The following three techniques will help you with this: First, group items related to topics. Second, keep lower priority items with coarse grains. Third and most importantly, target your backlog to a specific product destination. Then reject and remove items that do not serve this purpose, as I will discuss below.


The product aggregate is too detailed

Another time, I was asked to help the staff of a large UK charity whose job it was to create a new website for their fundraising campaigns. The product owner told me that she would include the backlog of products as much as she could, but the development team was still not happy with it. Looking at the clutter, I noticed that it only contains detailed user stories – no epics or other crude items.

But accumulating products that are too detailed makes it difficult to see the tree for the trees: there is simply too much information. This, in turn, makes it difficult to prioritize and update the object. Moreover, it is likely to contain speculative and ultimately erroneous items, especially when development efforts are characterized by uncertainty and change.

I therefore recommend that you start with an initial accumulation of products that is intentionally limited and incomplete, especially when your product is young or experiencing greater change. Then let the aggregate evolve based on the feedback received from users, customers and stakeholders. This allows you to minimize the effort to fill the product backlog and base your product decisions on empirical evidence, not on gut feeling.


The product cluster is not refined properly

Some time ago, I worked with a company that connects consumers in the UK with a dealer like a plumber or a gardener. So, the company was still a start-up, and the product owner asked me to help them deal with a planning problem: the development team undertook too routinely and never managed to complete all the work in the sprint.

When I was instructed in the office, I saw some paper cards on the wall with large epics and sketches on them, and asked the product owner if these were part of the product battery. The individual replied, “No, it is he The product cluster. ”Given that the cluster did not contain sufficiently refined and ready-made items, I was no longer surprised that the development team struggled to plan the sprint correctly.

While you do not want to make your product inventory more detailed than necessary, you need to make sure that its high-priority items are ready. This requires them to meet the following three criteria: First, they are sufficiently clear and understood by the development team. Second, they can be completed in a sprint by Done’s definition. Third, you can test them. The preparation of high-priority items is best done together with (some of the members) the development team, as I will discuss below.


The product aggregate is a wish list

How many products have been accumulated – like the one with 40,000 items mentioned above – are similar to a wish list, a catalog that contains everything and anything you will ever need. The trouble with such a lag is not only that it is usually too big. It also results in a “feature soup”, a product that resembles a loose collection of unrelated features. This leads to a weak value proposition and a poor user experience, which are almost no hallmarks of a great product.

But if these arrears are so bad, why do they exist? There are two main reasons: first, lack of alignment and strategic focus, and second, lack of empowerment. The first implication is that there is no product target that guides the decision whether or not to add an item to the product backlog. You could, for example, brainstorm user stories and decide to add them all. Who knows, they may be useful at some point in time!

Lack of empowerment makes it difficult for you, the product owner, to refuse the requests of stakeholders and feel obligated to respond to them. But if you can not say no, your products have been compromised to serve individual stakeholders and their personal goals – instead of maximizing the value the product creates for users and the business.

To prevent your product aggregate from becoming a wish list, follow these two tips: First, select a product target and tailor your product to a strategic plan like a product roadmap (as I will discuss below). Second, muster the courage to say no. Reject ideas and requests that do not fit the product goal. (See my article ‘Increase Your Leadership in the Product’ for tips on increasing your authority.)


Product accumulation is not effectively prioritized

Some time ago, I was working with the product manager of a new health product when I suggested prioritizing its features. The individual looked at me in surprise and replied, “I can not. Everyone is a high priority.” Prioritization, of course, requires deciding how important the item is. If everything is a high priority, everything is equally important. This means that nothing is a priority. But without clear priorities, the development team lacks direction.

If you have difficulty prioritizing your product aggregate, try the following two measures: First, make sure that the product aggregation items serve a specific product target, as mentioned earlier. Second, select a small set of practical priority factors. The three factors I want to recommend are risk, cost-effectiveness and dependence.

Here’s how you can implement them: First prioritize your product backlog by risk and consider user, technology and business risks. Evaluate all the backlog items along with the development team and move those to the top of the topics at the highest risk. This approach accelerates learning, and it avoids late failure when changing course is more expensive. Once you have addressed the main risks, order the product backlog at cost-benefit, and move the items to the top that yield the largest quantity. For the money, as they say. Finally, do not forget to consider dependence using the other two factors. These include dependence on individual team members and other teams, as these can affect the priority of the load.


The product aggregate is not shared

A few years ago, I worked with a group of Dutch-based product owners who wanted their development teams to get better at providing what they asked for. It turned out that the product owners honed the product backlog and wrote user stories themselves and then passed the high-priority items to the developer teams based in Romania. The teams did their best to interpret the users’ stories correctly. But more often than not, they were wrong, as they had little knowledge of end users and their needs.

While non-cooperation in the situation described may be obvious to an outsider, I find it not uncommon for development teams not to be properly involved in the work of product aggregation. But refining, prioritizing and updating the order backlog should be teamwork, as shown in the image below. As the product owner, invite development team members to work with you on the backlog, and expect them to support you. If this is not the case, then we’re discussing the issue in retrospect of the next sprint.

Collaborative products aggregation workshop

Working together on the product aggregate and co-creating its items offers the following two benefits: First, it leverages the collective knowledge and creativity of the development team, which usually leads to better aggregation items – detailed items just as they need to be. to be. At the same time, it allows you as the product manager to pass on knowledge about users and their needs to the developer team.

Second, it makes team members feel valued and respected. It empowers people and increases their motivation to work on the product. People no longer get demands to work on them. They are now contributing to product decisions and helping to design the solution.

If you do not work regularly on the product backlog with at least some members of the developer team, give it a try. Set up a collaborative workshop, whether on-site or online, and ask your Scrum Master for guidance. Initially, this may require you to spend more time working on the product cluster. But in the long run, it should reduce your workload. It may even make the development team happy to do some of the refinement work themselves.


The product accumulation lacks strategic alignment

A common mistake of a product aggregator and root cause for a number of errors discussed above is strategic mismatch: the aggregator is not systematically connected to a strategic plan like a product roadmap. But without strategic intent and a clear product goal controlling it, even the backlog of orders can easily grow, become difficult to prioritize and become a wish list. The same was true of the huge accumulation of products I mentioned earlier: the strategic goal of the product was not clear, and it is difficult to determine which items should be added to the accumulation.

I therefore strongly recommend that you connect your product backlog to a roadmap of an actionable product that indicates the value that the product should create in the form of product goals for the next nine to twelve months, as the image below illustrates. Example product goals may be acquiring users, increasing the call, removing technical obligations to protect the product in the future, and reducing costs.

Product roadmap and product aggregate
Product roadmap, product aggregate and product destination

In the image above, a goal-oriented, results-based product roadmap directs the product aggregate. This is done by copying the next product destination from the roadmap into the backlog. Then, the goal helps to determine the items that should be included in the product backlog, i.e. only those that help meet it. (You can find out how the roadmap and the aggregation of the product can complement each other in my article The roadmap of the product and the aggregation of the products.)

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