A product backlog is a list of potential work items, prioritised by relative order of value.
A classic lifecycle for a product idea to go from vision to reality is:
- Concept and idea
- Feasibility and opportunity
- Definition and discovery
- Build, Test & delivery
When ideating around a product or feature set in those first three phases, then naturally a lot of ideas are generated and these need to be stored somewhere.
The product backlog is that perfect place. It’s a simple list that contains all the ideas that could have some benefit to the product, prioritised by value relative to one another. These are referred to as product backlog Items (PBIs) and can take several forms – user stories are the most common format. Bugs, enhancements, technical debt and just about anything else can be used as a PBI.
The backlog, as it is often more simply known, is the primary tool for the product owner to make their decisions about what goes in to a product, visible and transparent to all. If the backlog isn’t accessible then it loses its integrity. It is the basis of release planning, road-mapping and forecasting; so, making sure it is kept up to date is crucial.
This means that a lot of the ceremonies had by the product development team are likely to be centred around the backlog also. Once made visible, dependencies and other risks can be foreseen and hopefully resolved before they become a constraint.
Product backlog top tip
The golden rule for a product backlog is to invest in it. The better the quality of the backlog, the better the quality of the product that will be built. A backlog can go stale very quickly without good management, the items will not be understood, the intent behind them will be lost and the product that gets built will be out-dated.