Product managers usually struggle between choosing what to build or fix next. You usually have limited engineers, tight deadlines, and a lot of customer requests to cater to. As a product manager, you probably want to save all your customers' problems and launch all the features that they are requesting.
However, in reality, you prioritize what to build and put the rest on a backburner in your backlog. But do you know for a fact which features requests and suggestions to select in the next sprint and the ones to push in the backlog?
Also, if you’re not careful about it, your backlog can quickly turn from an organized list of features and tasks into a hotchpotch that no product expert or developer wants to look into. Today, we’ll teach you some of the best practices for efficiently managing a product backlog.
What is a Product Backlog?
A product backlog is a list of tasks that your development team should be working on at some point but are not a priority right now. These can be feature requests, bug fixes, product updates, or any feedback on your product that's not a high priority - so to the backlog, they go.
There are many reasons why a feature or a project could end up in the backlog. It may take too long to finish, it doesn’t fit into your theme in the short run, perhaps there is no immediate return on investment or your development team might just be stretched thin at the moment.
In any case, tasks from your product backlog are only there temporarily and should move to your product roadmap when the time comes for it.
Who Owns the Product Backlog?
It depends on who you have on your product team. If you have a well-structured product team, the person in charge of the backlog is usually a product owner. If not, then it should be the product manager. But if there’s just one person in the entire dev team, well - then just like for everything else, they’re in charge of the backlog.
Product Backlog and Team's Productivity
If you think that having a clean backlog may not seem like something that can influence your team’s productivity, think again as you would be surprised.
If you build a neat product roadmap that makes sense and do it the right way, you’ll have a list of tasks for upcoming months that you can focus on without any distractions. Oftentimes, a product manager is usually busy designing sprints and building roadmaps for the next update while the team works to finish the current ones. If you want to think about productivity, in the long run, focusing on your backlog should be your first step.
Building Product Backlog
Just like a roadmap, a product backlog doesn’t just happen. You need to build and plan for it carefully. Having a properly organized backlog ensures that you’re meeting your customers’ expectations, delivering according to your long-term product mission and vision, and ultimately, driving revenue for your business.
Starting with Roadmap and Requests
Before a backlog, you'll need to create a product roadmap. A vision of what you plan to deliver in the upcoming months needs to be based on customers’ feedback, aligned with the product mission and vision, and overall product plans.
Once you plan out your backlog, you can strategically prioritize the features and options that you need sooner rather than later. The more important a feature is, the sooner you put it in your product roadmap. If it’s not urgent or relevant for your business at the moment, you push it to the backlog.
Just like a roadmap, the backlog should be organized according to priority as well. In other words, if you have some free resources for the upcoming quarter, you shouldn’t just randomly pick something from the backlog and move it to production.
Instead, you should order and organize your backlog according to priority.
And if you don’t know which feature you should build next, use feature requests as guidance. When you use feedback software such as FeedBear, customers can vote on feature requests so you can immediately know which feature request has the popular vote.
Prioritizing Product Backlog
The backlog is like a roadmap before the roadmap. Just like a roadmap, it needs prioritization and constant evaluation to make sure you’re on the right track and working on the right features. Prioritizing the right features and mapping them out in advance in a product backlog helps you achieve all or most of your product goals in the long run.
Define near-term and long-term tasks
Rome was not built in a day. Something as complex as building an entirely new user interface cannot be done in a single sprint or a month. Make sure your backlog is sorted according to what you are to deliver soon and what you should be building further into the future.
Understand customer needs and implementation difficulty
Your backlog should be guided by your customers' needs, just like your roadmap. At the same time, you should consider how difficult it is to launch a certain feature, in the sense of the time and the workload it takes from your team.
How to Optimize Product Backlog Management
Managing your product backlog is not a skill that comes naturally and most of the time, it takes quite a bit of experience to become good at it. However, there are some steps that you can take today to optimize the way you manage your product backlog.
Check the backlog frequently
A backlog is a living, breathing organism and it moves along with your development and product teams’ workflows. Make sure to check it now and then and pick up the tasks that are next in line, as well as discard those that no longer fit into your long-term plans and strategies.
Remove the items you’ll never work on
Continuing with the point above, you’ll probably have some items in your backlog that will just never make it to your roadmap. And as optimistic as you want to be, sometimes it’s best to face reality and just remove whatever you will never work on.
Keep items you are not ready for off the backlog
There may be amazing features that you could launch in the upcoming months but at the moment, you’re just not ready for them. Whether you need more time, more developers, or you just can’t launch one feature without launching something else first, sometimes, it’s best to keep some items off the backlog.
Do not over-add tasks unless you will actually work on them soon
Remember the talk about optimism above? You may be tempted to add a bunch of tasks to your backlog to motivate yourself to work on them. In reality, you’re just burying the tasks that need your attention. Don’t pile up your backlog and turn it into a wishlist.
Define a product strategy
Before going into creating and managing a backlog, make sure to create a product strategy first. Define what your long-term goals are and what you want to achieve before moving to individual tasks and features. That way, every item you ship will align with the broader product strategy.
Set a timeline
Just because something is in the backlog and not the roadmap, doesn’t mean that it should not have a timeline of its own. Each item should have a timeframe for when it should either move to the roadmap or get scrapped and sent to the bin.
Feel free to prioritize and re-prioritize
Priorities change. Something that was of utmost importance in Q1 may no longer be the most important thing in the world in Q2. Don’t be afraid to reshuffle, reorder and re-prioritize the items in your backlog as you see fit - they’re not set in stone.
Stick to one product backlog
We already talked about product roadmaps and how it’s generally a good idea to have more than one. With product backlogs, it’s best to stick to just one. It will improve the communication and collaboration within your team and you’ll have fewer places to check when looking for what to work on next.
Managing a product backlog is not something that should come as an afterthought. A great backlog is just as valuable as a high-quality product roadmap, so keeping close tabs on your backlog is a smart investment in the future of your product.
Wondering where to get started? With FeedBear, you can easily collect feedback, create product backlogs and roadmaps and truly connect with your customers. Ready to get started? Sign-up for a free trial today!