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How to Make your Product Backlog into the Ultimate Project To-do List

Trying to get your project in order can be really difficult, you want to do all sorts of cool things and add awesome features to your app but that all can’t happen at once. In order to have a well organized project with good long term goals you must prioritize tasks and features to determine what you need to make your product viable first. When you have great ideas they have to be put somewhere though, that’s where the product backlog comes in.

The product backlog is a key element in workflow organization and prioritization, it’s a prioritized list of features or tasks that need to be implemented in the product production process. The backlog houses a list of tasks and projects that are on the radar, yet won’t be completed in the current sprint. Having an organized workflow is important to production schedules and planning as it helps to organize all the things that need to get done yet aren’t in imminent need. In the product development lifecycle it helps to have a backlog of tasks and projects that can be worked on once the more important tasks have been completed. 

Tasks in the backlog can come from a variety of sources whether they are bug fixes to a project, marketing needs, or new features that need to be added. They all fall under the backlog prioritization lists. The different sources can determine the level of importance for the task such as a bug fix that comes from user feedback will have a higher priority on the backlog versus making a style change. 

The creation of the backlog comes from the discovery phase where a client will put all of the things they would like to see happen into a prioritized list and as the project moves along, tasks are pulled from it and worked on. It’s a great place for housing great ideas and features the client would like to have but aren’t ready for yet or aren’t as important as the MVP features. While every project will have a different priority list, all tasks’ level of importance will be determined by the project manager who will be the gatekeeper for new projects and items to be worked on. 

There are two different types of backlogs; short term and long term and each of them has their own prioritizations. The short term backlog will include all the tasks and projects that are to be completed in the current sprint of 1-2 weeks. These are the most important features that are in urgent need of development and will be completed in ascending order. The long term backlog is things that need to be completed but are not as important and can wait until future sprints. When a new sprint is started the backlogs are reassessed and new projects are pulled from the long term into the short term and this cycle repeats until project completion. 

The project manager is the gatekeeper who is responsible for organizing and assigning tasks on the backlog. While the product owner helps create and prioritize the tasks in the backlog, the project manager is responsible for keeping it all in order. A system that we use for our own internal organization is Trello. Trello is a project management app that businesses use to keep track of long term projects. This is where tasks will be put into cards and then into channels based on level of importance and significance. The project manager will then assign tasks to people as well as a time constraint in most cases to complete it. The item will then move from the backog to in progress to finally, done. Their main role is then to check in with people to make sure they are completing their tasks and that the project is moving forward. The project manager is also responsible for adding new projects to the board and knowing what projects are being actively worked on. 

Prioritizing the backlog by sorting is the core process of its means. It’s a very important step in having a functional backlog that’s actually useful. While the product manager is usually the one responsible for assigning tasks and keeping the board organized, the prioritization falls on the clients needs and requirements for the project’s scope. Together with the project manager they will determine what is most important and urgent to the project and what is to be on deck in the backlog of tasks. Having this process in place is key to making sure the process is utilized and used effectively. 

There are a few different ways that a project manager can define the levels of priority. These come from three different sources; revenue, mvp, and complexity/time. 

  1. Revenue: how much revenue a feature can potentially bring in to the project owner and is based on the needs of the consumer and project owner. While this is important it can only be an assumption based on estimates. Despite that, it’s still an important aspect with regards to return on investment. 
  2. A Minimum Viable Product (MVP):  in the eyes of the client. It’s important because these are the requirements the project needs to meet to be usable and viable and thus they are the most important things that need to be completed. 
  3. Complexity: the importance of time management within a project and how important a task is in the scope of the entire project. If something is very complex but less important than something easy then the project manager must determine where that can fit into the schedule and if it’s more or less important than other smaller tasks. 

An important aspect of backlog management is time management and understanding what can be fit into a week. It also needs to be considered that it has to be put off due to time constraints of a forty hour workweek. While some things are more important than others, it is crucial to keep in mind the time that it takes to complete things and how much can actually be done per sprint. Having a practical and semi-accurate time expectation is important to knowing what is most important and what needs to be in the long term backlog. 

In addition to backlog management there also must be a system for reorganization and maintenance. When the backlogs become full of tasks with no organization a plan must be put in place to reassess the priority of tasks and get back on track. When doing this the project manager must keep in mind the levels or priority and importance to not only those working on the project but also to the client. It’s also important to move things  that aren’t currently being worked on or have no immediate plans to be worked on, this will keep you better focused and on track. Once the backlogs (both short and long term) have been refreshed and reorganized, then the project can continue to move forward. 

Overall, The product backlog is an important tool in product development and organization of projects. With this you can organize all of the smaller tasks and complete your goals and plans more efficiently and effectively and not get lost in the clutter. And not only will these skills and tools allow you to effectively manage your project but they can help you get your life in order too!

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