Efficiency: something we all strive for, but often have a hard time accomplishing. However, when it comes to software development, efficiency is what sets apart the project that flops and the one that goes on to be the next big thing. Thankfully, Lean and Agile methodologies can help you to prioritize your product backlog and put your best foot forward when it comes to improving the efficiency of your software development.

With this article, we are going to share five of our favorite tips for prioritizing the backlog in order to perform better sprints and hopefully, better projects. By the end, you will be well equipped to take on your next sprint and have a better understanding of how to run an effective software development. Let’s get started.

product backlog

The Purpose of the Product Backlog

In order to better prioritize and organize your product backlog, it is important that you understand the purpose of the product backlog. The reason we mention this is far too many Agile teams believe that anything related to the project should be put up into the product backlog, creating a disorganized mess.

Instead, your team should see the product backlog as a way to keep track of what needs to be done in order to create a working product as efficiently as possible. Thankfully, when done correctly, this is exactly what the product backlog does. Unfortunately, this takes a good deal of effort in maintaining or “grooming” the backlog in order to keep everything running smooth.

“Grooming”

Product backlog prioritization, sometimes called grooming or product backlog refinement, is a necessity in any software development project. Not only will new items constantly be added to your product backlog throughout the process, but the priority of those items will change and shift as you better understand your audience and product.

The following five tips will point you in the right direction and give you the knowledge you need to better groom your own product backlog. By simply taking the time to prioritize your work and follow these best practices, you can save both time and money for your organization.

1. Only put top priority items in the backlog

Prioritizing your product backlog starts with keeping your list of to-do items small. While it can be tempting to put everything for the entire project on the product backlog, this can overwhelm your team and make it more difficult to choose what items to tackle. Especially if you are using a Scrum methodology, as the list will be revisited often.

A good rule of thumb here is to only put items that can be accomplish in the next 2 or 3 sprints on the product backlog, while keeping a separate log or roadmap for any additional items that need to be accomplished. Keeping your backlog as lean as possible will help you keep the focus on what is important and avoid distractions.

Create a separate log for less-important items

When product managers simply throw all of the remaining half-formed ideas to the bottom of the product backlog, it makes the entire process less efficient. Not only that, but when you go to clear out the backlog, you will find that you have given yourself far more work that will take up valuable time that could be dedicated to testing or developing.

By creating a separate log for less-important items and long-term goals, you can still keep everything in mind while ridding yourself of excess tasks. We highly recommend this approach for improved efficiency in your development projects.

2. Constantly re-order backlog by relevance

Another reason for keeping your product backlog lean is that as the project progresses you will need to re-order the backlog by relevance. For instance, a task put on the backlog at the beginning of the project may be rendered irrelevant by product testing. Whereas, a seemingly random item may need to be moved to a higher priority.

Due to the fast-paced, shifting nature of the Agile development process, we recommend constantly cross-checking your backlog against the needs of your project. Unless you take the time to do this, you may end up adding weeks or even months to the process.

3. Always follow the data

Now, so far, we have mainly been talking about different processes for ordering the product backlog, but unless you are sure of the priority of each item, how do you know you are choosing the best path forward? This is where data, testing, and user feedback come into play. Our advice is to always follow the data.

This all goes back to UX design and taking the needs of the user seriously. Often, developers will run around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to figure out their audience, when they could simply ask them. By conducting thorough testing and working with a product manager who understands the end-users, you will make better decisions and end up with a better end-product.

4. Avoid scheduling grooming too late or too early in the process

Another common pitfall that Agile and Scrum teams fall into when grooming their product backlog is either trying to make changes too early or late in the process. When changes are made too early, it can alter the project significantly and put you off course. On the other hand, when changes are made too late, it can often be futile as there isn’t enough time left to implement them.

This is why Scrum masters will recommend that you only prioritize and groom your backlog in the middle 60% of the project and avoid doing so at the first and last 20%. Not only does this give your team the time to jump into the product upfront, but it also ensures that you meet deadlines closer to the end of the project. Even if you feel that a change needs to be made near the end, talk with your team first to see if it possible considering other factors.

5. Keep the team involved

Which leads us to the last tip for grooming your product backlog: keep the team involved. As Scrum master or product owner, it can be easy to slip into leadership mode and make all backlog grooming decisions yourself. However, if you truly want to have the best possible development, you need to include your team and make these decisions together.

This may be as simple as scheduling a meeting every couple of weeks to review the product backlog and make any necessary changes. If you have been using best practices throughout the process, this will be a quick meeting, allowing you to stay focused on the tasks at hand.

Final thoughts: Collaboration is key

In the end, the best tool you have at your disposal in the grooming process is your team and the collaboration they offer. By getting insights from each member of the project, you will have a more well-rounded product offering. Not only that, but if you follow the above tips and follow the data, you will have built in an exceptional user experience throughout.

Our hope is that you will take these tips and use them on your next project to create an even better experience for your clients. Hopefully, if everything runs smoothly, you may even have created a good experience for your team as well.

Happy sprinting!