What is a Product Backlog Item? Definition and Example

By Nathan Cavet
Published: 3/23/21
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You might wonder what exactly is a product backlog item?

Are you part of an agile team using the Scrum method? Would you like to learn everything about its particularities? Are you a Product Owner and do you want to know how to create and manage your product backlog efficiently?

Or maybe you are simply curious to discover the benefits of this methodology, and the value that switching to agile can bring to your projects?

Whatever the reasons that bring you here, be certain that Appvizer will answer your questions!

This article reveals how the product backlog item is an ally for your agile project management. Stay focused, Appvizer reveals to you all the secrets of this important element in agile!

What is the backlog product item?

The backlog: definition and example

In the Scrum project framework, there are two types of backlogs:

  • the product backlog, which is a list of features expected for the product (a feature is usually described by a user story),
  • the sprint backlog, which is a list of tasks in progress or to be completed by the development team over a period of time (iteration).

This article details the use of the product backlog item. Managed and ordered by the Product Owner, the product backlog lists and prioritizes all the requests related to the product according to their priority level.

It is a practical tool for internal communication about the project, containing key information such as:

  • the name of the item
  • the description of the functionality,
  • the workload,
  • the current sprint,
  • the status,
  • the order of priority, etc.

The use of the product backlog item in the Scrum framework

The product backlog is used in the framework of an agile method, which is an iterative and incremental approach to development.

More specifically, it is used within the Scrum method according to the Scrum guide.

The Product Owner (PO) has full responsibility for the product backlog. They:

  • collect the needs expressed by other departments in the company, often marketing, or directly expressed by customers;
  • evaluate their acceptability;
  • write them in the form of user stories (US) and remain the only person in charge of prioritizing them within the backlog.

The PO does not directly assign tasks to the development team, but communicates them via the product backlog: at the top of the list are the most important elements, i.e. those that must be delivered first.

During the sprint planning meeting, the development team determines which user stories will be developed in the next sprint and allocates the tasks.

It then organizes itself according to its capacities and produces a sprint backlog for the next sprint. At this time, it refines the order of priority defined in the product backlog and translates each user story into technical specifications.

Product backlog, specifications, product roadmap: what are the differences?

The product backlog item can be likened to a tool for collecting requirements and a detailed list of the functions expected of a product. It is intended to evolve as the product evolves, throughout its life cycle.

The sprint backlog, on the other hand, is a tool for collecting the technical specifications to be carried out in order to produce the requests related to the product backlog.

A specification document is a precise and fixed specification document, drawn up before the project, which lists all the functionalities that the product must-have.

The product roadmap, on the other hand, is a medium to the long-term representation of the product creation process and its progress. In line with the company's global strategy, it sets the course and the product vision and defines the major common directions to be taken. It can be revised according to internal or external change factors.

How to organize a product backlog?

You can think of a product backlog item as a queue of customer requests. As a Product Owner, you have to sort them, accept them or not, and prioritize them. Let's see how in 4 steps.

Step 1: Set up the list of items

Based on the product roadmap and the requirements collected from stakeholders, you draw up an exhaustive list of all the features expected on the product.

Some requirements expressed will remain at the idea stage, as you must validate the acceptability of each one before following up on them, or not.

This may include:

  • the development of new features,
  • improving existing features,
  • solving bugs or technical problems.

Once the features have been selected, you can formalize and write them up in the form of US, which will be broken down, refined and ordered later.

Step 2: Create a strategy map

To determine which features to develop, you can use strategic planning and visual management tools such as the impact map.

Step 3: Prioritize the items

The product backlog items can quickly add up to a wide variety of ideas, which is why it is so important to prioritize them according to their importance. The priority levels defined correspond to the order in which they will be developed.

At this point, you can rank and order them according to their value, consistent with, but not limited to, the company's strategy.

👉 To prioritize the backlog items, rely on several criteria, including:

  • the degree of importance of the feature to the customer/user (business value),
  • the estimated amount of work required,
  • the difficulties to be expected for its implementation,
  • the technical or business knowledge gained by the team in implementing it.

If in theory, the Product Owner is solely responsible for prioritizing the elements, but they can call on other stakeholders like:

  • the customers for their comments and feedback
  • the Scrum Master for the prioritization of objectives and the logical order of tasks on a technical level,
  • the development team for workload optimization.

All of this is done with the aim of reconciling the expected benefits and the efforts to be made.

Step 4: Plan the sprint backlog

Before each sprint planning meeting, review the backlog to check again if the prioritization is appropriate and takes into account new factors that occurred during the previous sprint, such as:

  • customer feedbacks,
  • revision of initial estimates,
  • the appearance of new constraints, etc.

☝️ Be sure to build the first version of your backlog before the first sprint. It is your basic tool for planning and coordinating all upcoming developments.

Then determine a delivery schedule for the expected features to develop during that sprint. Once the sprint and the iteration schedule are fixed with the technical team, take care not to accept any new US until the new iteration. It is on the basis of this watertight scope that the development team will build its sprint backlog, which it will try to complete during the sprint in question.

A never-ending story?

The product backlog item is destined to have a long life, probably equivalent to that of the product: it will evolve continuously, be completed, re-evaluated, cleaned up (trimmed), etc.

To keep your backlog alive, in order to develop a high-impact, high-value product, your product backlog maintenance will be key.

Here are some final tips:

  • Limit the number of backlog items. To manage the arrival of new ideas, integrate the most relevant ones and don't hesitate to put aside the lower priority requests on a separate list. This avoids overloading the product backlog, which only contains those US that are classified as a priority. You also have the freedom to close some tickets if they exceed the capacity of the development team.
  • Set aside a regular time slot to tidy up your backlog. Refocus it on the real emergencies and check that you have all the elements to start the next sprint. In particular, you can institute a backlog grooming ceremony to review the backlog with the development team once per sprint.
  • Use specialized agile project management software to save you time and optimize the follow-up of your product backlog. Solutions adapted to agile and Scrum methods exist, designed specifically for agile project teams. Their features:
    • improve communication between stakeholders,
    • promote collaboration and visibility on project tasks,
    • offer efficient project tracking with notifications and indicators to achieve your goals.

But what about you, how do you manage your product backlog items? Don't hesitate to share your best practices in the comments!

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