Product Backlog (Definition, Metrics and How to Use It)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 24 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When working on a project, developers have a list of tasks to undertake. A backlog can help you focus on a single development strategy by outlining and prioritising these steps. Understanding this product feature can help you organise efficiently and rank your responsibilities by considering their urgency or importance. In this article, we define a backlog, outline its metrics, describe how to manage it and list its benefits in the workplace.

What is a product backlog?

A product backlog is a list of tasks for the development team. You can derive it from the product roadmap and requirements, which is a draft that designers and developers create to visualise the release of their product. Place the most important items at the top of the backlog to indicate to the team which tasks to perform first. They can then work through the backlog at their own pace depending on its capacity.

Software development managers often use a backlog to align the efforts of their development team. Customer priority, feedback urgency, implementation difficulty or interdependent relationships determine the priority of the work items. Product owners seek input and feedback from clients, designers and development teams to optimise everyone's productivity and product delivery. The backlog can communicate what's next on the development team's agenda as they execute tasks.

Related: What Does a Product Developer Do? (Definitions and Examples)

What are the metrics of a product backlog?

The metrics of a backlog vary between development teams. It may function as a list of all projects and initiatives that relate to a product. It could contain the following components:

User story

A user story is a brief, plain-language explanation of a feature or functionality a developer writes from a user's point of view. It can start as the smallest unit of product development work for a complete ability that another developer uses to implement the task. Product teams often use a brief, one or two-sentence user-story template. This enables developers to check that the product includes the features a user requires.

New features

Features refer to brief descriptions of new program capabilities that add value to a product. You can create a user story for a features entry. This could be a description from the client's perspective that provides a better understanding of the specifications they desire. For example, if you wish to update the organisational methods of your software solution, you can indicate that you want the software to divide your contracts when you create new accounts to better arrange your customer base's contact details.

Research

Research refers to the process of knowledge acquisition. This backlog item allows you to track technical areas that require more information before a team implements a change. For example, you can include an entry about studying different coding libraries or a new design method. As a result, you and the team can better understand how a new feature works and which techniques can best help you implement it.

Changes to existing functionalities

A change refers to an alteration to a product's existing feature. For example, a customer may request an adaptation of the existing organisational feature of a group of contracts. They can use different commands to arrange their contracts by the type of service in use. Add this request to the backlog as a change item so the software development team can complete all the tasks.

Bug fixes

A computer program is a set of commands that instruct the computer on what to do. Bugs can cause the computer program to crash or produce invalid output. Insufficient or erroneous logic could also be a factor. Many types of programming bugs cause errors with system implementation and require specific fixes that a development team or other IT team can successfully resolve. Accurate documentation could protect the company from technical issues affecting a product from its early development to eventual release.

Technical debt and refactoring

A technical debt, tech debt or code debt describes what occurs when development teams take actions to expedite the delivery of a piece of functionality or a project which might later require restoration. This could be the result of prioritising faster delivery over perfect code. Refactoring often involves restructuring computer code without changing or adding to its external behaviour and performance. You may prefer technical debt if the development backlog comprises application improvements rather than fixing bugs because it potentially advances the application.

Related: Product Roadmap: Definition and How to Create One (Plus FAQs)

How to manage a product backlog

The following are steps you can follow to manage a product backorder:

1. Add items to the backlog

You can work closely with members of the development team and your customers to add relevant items to the backlog. Suggestions from your clients help add optimisation tasks to the list. Developers or users might report bugs. Adding these important factors to your backlog can facilitate discussions and help your team find solutions for meeting the customer's request. You might also determine whether the update is achievable according to the project's timeline and budget. On larger projects, you can add tasks to the backlog by repeating instructions in the computer programs.

2. Clarify tasks

Once you have an outline of the backlog task list, it's important to clarify each task. After receiving requests for product additions or fixes, seek clarification from the client as to the purpose and motive behind this change. This could help your team further understand your client's expectations and develop ideas for how to best fulfil them. It can also provide a helpful context for any new team members. Use your understanding of the client's goals and requirements to determine exactly what developers can do to complete each task.

3. Prioritise items

After fully understanding the client's request, categorise the idea into individual and actionable tasks for the development team to complete. List them with the most urgent tasks at the top of the backlog and the least urgent at the bottom. If actions don't directly contribute to the success of the addition or fix, you might omit them entirely. Prioritising tasks on the backlog can help developers execute changes in the proper order.

Related: Time Management Skills: Examples and Improvement Strategies

4. Manage the backlog

Your backlog could become a dynamic document that requires regular changes. These edits may include marking tasks off as developers complete them and adding new steps to reflect upcoming work and changing priorities. Your backlog could contain several items. While you might discard some, others could become more urgent and require further refinement and development. Making these regular changes ensures that the backlog reflects the current progress and requirements of the project.

Related: What Is Epic in Agile? (Definition, Best Practices and Pros)

Benefits of using a product backlog

There can be many benefits of using a backlog to outline software development tasks. They may include the following:

Increases efficiency

Efficiency in the workplace refers to the ability of staff to successfully perform the correct tasks with the least waste of time and effort. You can organise steps according to their level of urgency to enable your development teams to effectively manage their time. This allows them to spend less time deciding which task to prioritise and focus more on completing important list items. As a result, they often increase their production of high-quality output.

Related: What Are Production Strategies? (With Steps and Benefits)

Promotes flexibility

Flexibility is a strategy for tackling changing circumstances and expectations. It may refer to the willingness and ability to adapt to change, especially regarding how and when work gets done. Product logs frequently shift because of the speed of task completion and the progress of the developer. The product owner may re-prioritise tasks on the backlog as this occurs. This flexibility enables developers to adjust their processes to easily align with these adaptations.

Facilitates team discussion

Team discussion is an important factor for effective collaboration in the workplace. If you add items to the bottom of a backlog before they're ready for completion, teams can be proactive in their approach to them. Backlogs can facilitate discussion amongst team members about upcoming tasks of high complexity or scale that you've proactively listed. They can also help teams identify potential issues before executing any fresh changes.

Aligns expectations

Aligning expectations with teams, clients and relevant parties is essential for successfully completing projects. Backlogs often provide a visual representation of the development process. This allows all team members to develop a mutual understanding of a project's status and the tasks they've yet to complete. When team members align their expectations through a single channel, it helps them work cohesively towards a common target.

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