Management Bug: Lack of Product Backlog

A MngtBug is a problem, cause or impact in a human manager’s decision which produces an incorrect or unexpected result. Every other week we share a little bit of our knowledge base on social media and our newsletter.

This week’s MngtBug is…

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Description

This week’s “Lack of Product Backlog” is a very specific problem.

By definition, the product backlog is an ordered list of everything that is known to be needed in the product. It is the single source of requirements for any changes to be made to the product.

The Product Backlog lists all features, functions, requirements, enhancements, and fixes that constitute the changes to be made to the product in future releases. Product Backlog items have the attributes of a description, order, estimate, and value. Product Backlog items often include test descriptions that will prove its completeness when “Done”.

The Product Owner is responsible for the Product Backlog, including its content, availability, and ordering.
(Extracted and adapted from https://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#artifacts-productbacklog)

How do you know if your product backlog is absent or ineffective? Here are 8 symptoms:

  • Hidden. The old product backlog sneak attack. No one has access to the product backlog except the product owner. The product owner has created or updated the backlog in isolation and the first time anyone sees or hears about it is during a sprint planning session.
  • Stale. The backlog hasn’t been updated or refined in quite some time. I have seen backlogs littered with years worth of requests and defects. Many of the items are no longer valuable and become a distraction.
  • Coupled. All of the stories must be done or nothing gets delivered. This will often result in numerous sprints needing to be completed before anything of value is completed and deployed.
  • Unordered. If the product owner were unavailable the team would not know what to do next. There is no prioritization or sequence.
  • Vague. No one knows what the backlog items are trying to accomplish. There are just a few words for acceptance criteria and the stories lack a connection to a real user need.
  • Unfocused. Similar to being vague, the overall backlog has a whimsical or half-hearted feel to it. Some of the “user stories” are actually focused on team roles. Ever see a story start with “As a product owner I need…”
  • Verbose. On the other hand, some backlogs include each item having 3 pages of acceptance criteria and a full requirements document. Find balance by using the retrospective for feedback from the team on the right amount of detail to build and test the story and nothing more.
  • Disconnected. Similar to being unfocused and vague, backlogs with this symptom have items with no connection to a broader product vision or even worse, from any mechanism to measure how the backlog item will deliver on expected results (a business case or key performance indicators).

In addition to these 8 symptoms here are 2 bonus product backlog “smells.” Depending on the nature of your product (legacy systems, new technologies, etc.) these smells may indicate a problem with the backlog but maybe not.

  • Lacking experimentation. There are no stories based on an assumption or a hunch. This aligns with the disconnected symptom. We shouldn’t expect a product owner to have all the answers so their backlog may include items like A/B tests to see if key performance indicators can be influenced with a small subset of users.
  • Low feature/fix ratio. This is only a “smell” as there may be times when a team will need to focus on fixes or removing technical debt. This becomes a symptom of an ineffective backlog when this is ALL the team does and an indicator of a bigger symptom of poor craftsmanship or a complex architecture.

(Extracted and adapted from https://illustratedagile.com/2014/02/26/8-symptoms-ineffective-product-backlog/)

Known Associates

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This MngtBug has been mentioned in relation to a number of MngtFixes such as…

“Customer Needs and Wants Elicitation”,
“Product Strategy Definition”,
“Scrum Masters Hiring”,
“Product Owner Hiring”,
“Scrum Training”,
and of course “Product Backlog Grooming/Refinement”!

Call to action

What about you? What do you want more or less of on medium post?
Do you have other suggestions?

I would love to know more about your feedback and stories so that we can learn, share and grow together!

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Have a nice week and remember…
Human Managers should strive to be humans while managing and be managed as humans!

Written by

Eduardo Espinheira is a Consultant, Facilitator, Manager, Public Speaker, Creator of the Management Bugs&Fixes and the Machiavellian PM Stories

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