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  • Tim Brennan

5 Steps for Maintaining an Effective Product Backlog

For any organization using Scrum, an accurate, well-groomed product backlog is the foundation for a successful project. To properly maintain the product backlog, the product owner and the development team should regularly review and update the list of items, which involves adding new items, updating the descriptions and estimates for existing items, and re-prioritizing items based on the team's current priorities.

The goal of grooming the product backlog is to ensure that it is always up-to-date and provides the developers with enough information about the project's remaining work for the team to accomplish its goals efficiently.

Here are five specific steps for maintaining a product backlog in Scrum:

  1. Set aside dedicated time for grooming the product backlog. This could be a regular meeting scheduled at the same time each sprint or an informal ongoing process that happens whenever there are updates to the backlog. Regardless of how you structure this time, having the entire team aware that time will be committed to product backlog grooming prevents the task from becoming a chore in the back of the product owner's mind.

  2. Review and update the items in the product backlog, which involves adding new items, updating the descriptions and estimates for existing items, and removing items that are no longer relevant. The development team should provide input on the estimates for each item, as they will ultimately decide how many things move into the sprint backlog at the beginning of each new sprint.

  3. Re-prioritize the items in the product backlog. The product owner should consider the team's capacity and the project's current goals when deciding on the priority of each item in the backlog. The essential items should be at the top of the list, pushing lower-priority things further down the backlog. This is also where the product owner should double-check for dependencies. Prioritize items higher than their dependents to avoid creating technical debt once a sprint has begun.

  4. Learn from completed product backlog items. The product backlog is not only a roadmap of your future work but also a record of the work you have completed. If an item takes your team longer than anticipated because of a specific task, use that knowledge to adjust estimates of future items that also include that task. Accurate estimates lead to efficient sprints.

  5. Make sure the product backlog is transparent and accessible. The product backlog should be visible to the entire team, so everyone knows what work needs to be done and the current priorities. You can do this by one by using a physical whiteboard or a digital tool that is shared with the team.

To summarize, maintaining a proper product backlog is essential to a successful project. Maintenance can be manageable if you set aside dedicated time for product backlog grooming. During this grooming session, take the following four steps:

  • Review and update product backlog items

  • Accurately prioritize product backlog items

  • Learn from completed product backlog items

  • Maintain transparency and accessibility

Executing the list above will put your product backlog in good shape and your Scrum team on its way to a successful project.


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