How to have a healthy Product Backlog - Unlock Your Team's Genius

How to have a healthy Product Backlog

By Georg Fasching | agile practice

Aug 08

A well-organised product backlog can help your scrum team tackle work items more effectively


Tip 1: Create value, not tasks

Ensure each item in the product backlog is a feature, not a task for individual members of the team. When I say ‘feature’, I mean that it’s a complete deliverable that brings value to the user.

Lining up different tasks for team members actually prevents them from working collaboratively as a team, whereas features do the exact opposite, facilitating cohesion and value delivery. This is why a feature must be a single item that describes what the team as a whole needs to accomplish to create a specific value.

A feature is one item that encompasses what the whole team needs to accomplish to create a specific value for the end user. Click To Tweet

Tip 2: Always be aligning

All items that make their way towards the top of the product backlog should be in alignment with the “INVEST” criteria to ensure they are ready to be taken into a Sprint. You may have read this from the work of Roman Pichler–if you haven’t, I highly suggest you look him up.  The INVEST criteria were originally created by Bill Wake. It means that each item must be all of the following:

  • Independent: should operate separately from the rest of the following items
  • Negotiable: there should be some room for the team to negotiate the way in which it’s executed
  • Valuable: Its delivery must create value by itself
  • Estimate-able: It must be defined well enough to be properly estimated
  • Sized Appropriately/Small: The item must be small enough so that the team can easily create it in a fraction of the Sprint
  • Testable: It’s execution must be testable to meet the acceptance criteria

Use this as a checklist or mnemonic to ensure all items are of sufficient fidelity and quality to enter the sprint or iteration.

Tip 3: Refine as one

Last but not least, it’s important to practice product backlog refinement together as a whole team. That means not just the product owner and a small subgroup, but the entire team. The reason for this is that refining with only a small subsection of the team leaves the rest out of sync and creates a disconnect between the appreciation of value, and the effort required to deliver the work. By refining together, you create a collective knowledge and understanding in the minds of the scrum team. The Scrum Guide recommends to invest up to 10% of the Sprint’s capacity into the activity of Product Backlog Refinement. If your teams does too little of this activity it will first show in suboptimal Sprint Planning events, and then throughout the Sprint, especially the beginning.

I hope the video and tips above help you to organise your product backlog more effectively and have everyone invested in preparation for the Sprint–from the product owners and stakeholders to the individual members of the team who will be completing the work. Once accomplished, this will make for a much more cohesive team. If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to cover, leave a comment below or send me a message through my website. Thanks for reading. See you next time!


About the Author

An agilist since 2010 and in product management since the 90s, Georg Fasching helps digital creative agencies delight their clients, fulfil their people, and improve their prosperity.