What is Product Backlog Refinement, and Why Should You Care?

The product design and creation processes are far from straightforward. Only 1 in 7 product ideas result in a successful product, and very few product ideas even reach the launch stage. Brainstorming may result in your vision of the perfect product, but having a great vision doesn’t always equate to having a willing market. 

That’s why an understanding of customer needs is critical. Even after a product grows past the drawing board and reaches the launch stage, awareness of customer needs is essential for maintaining customer loyalty and creating a product that meets user demand. To properly ensure all your customers’ needs are being met, you need to implement a product backlog.

What is a Product Backlog?

A product backlog is a list of items or tasks for the development team to perform, sorted by priority. The list is sourced from the roadmaps and their requirements. The highest priority tasks should be placed at the top of the product backlog, so the team knows which task to accomplish first. 

The product backlog isn’t designed to be rushed through or completed at a certain pace. Instead, the team pulls tasks from the backlog as they have the capacity for it, whether continually or by iteration.

Product backlog as a burger

Product Backlog vs. Product Roadmap

Although both product backlog and product roadmap are essential tools for agile development, the two are not the same. Product backlog chooses to include specific tasks, such as feature improvements, while a product roadmap is a more general strategy that applies to the entire product development journey. In the table below, we take a closer look at the differences between the two concepts.

 

Product Roadmap Product Backlog
Time table Can vary- averages 3 months 1-2 sprints
Intention Create a strategy Create clear and tactical steps in the execution of a strategy
Audience Executives and stakeholders Primarily product and development personnel
Content High-level: themes and epics or outcomes and goals Task-level: user stories and defects

What is Product Backlog Refinement?

Product backlog refinement is refining the product backlog by adding details, estimates, and orders to the tasks listed in the product backlog. The process is continuous and often involves collaboration between the product owner and the development team. 

During the refinement process, all the items in the backlog are reviewed, analyzed, and revised with new details added. In addition, the process involves various additional activities, such as estimating the amount of effort required to complete a backlog task and adding further information to the task as it becomes available.

The process allows teams to easily prioritize backlog tasks, align the tasks with OKRs or KPIs, add additional details to functions, and ensure that all functions are appropriately sized. While the process may share commonalities with sprint planning, sprint planning occurs during specifically scheduled times in the software development process. At the same time, product backlog refinement happens throughout the lifecycle and ensures that backlog tasks can quickly and easily be drawn from the list and accomplished

Product Backlog Refinement

Critical Components of Product Backlog Refinement

Product backlog refinement is a process that encompasses a variety of tasks. Here are a few of the process’ key components:

  • Sort the items in your backlog: Identify and remove irrelevant items
  • Add additional details before implementation, such as examples, constraints, edge cases, etc., to prevent confusion or misunderstanding
  • Split larger tasks into smaller, more manageable, and more focused tasks
  • Size and resize items, especially:
    • Items that have sat in the backlog for longer than intended
    • As a confirmation task for tasks due for implementation
  • Prioritize tasks and continue reprioritizing as more details are added or teams gain new insights
  • Analyze any risks or roadblocks that may stand in the way of items nearing implementation
  • Ensure that all tasks are on the list and none are missing
  • Ensure that your list contains suggestions made up of user feedback or that deliver users’ needs

Why is Product Backlog Refinement important?

Implementing a product backlog refinement process has a wide range of benefits. The process can streamline your product roadmap, ensure all the tasks on the product backlog are completed and speed up time-to-market. The process also enhances collaboration between teams thanks to the cooperation across departments. 

In addition, prioritizing stories and breaking them down can reveal hidden complexities or new information that wouldn’t be noticed without the refinement process. Refining the product backlog gives teams a clear idea of how long each item will take, making the sprint planning process more straightforward and allowing teams to select which task to pull based on their availability.

5 Best Practices of Product Backlog Refinement

To take full advantage of the benefits product backlog refinement has to offer, there are some best practices you can implement that will make the process as efficient as possible. 

1. Prioritization

The first essential practice for an efficient product backlog refinement process is prioritization. The most important tasks should be at the top for teams to perform first. 

2. Estimation

Next, you need to assign an estimate to each task- this can include story points, hours, or even size (small, medium, or large) so that teams understand the size of the task and cost of implementation.

Prioritizing product backlog

3. Monitor and Update

Another refinement aspect is ensuring the product backlog reflects your organization’s real-time needs and priorities. This means you need to update the product backlog constantly and that tasks shouldn’t remain there long. 

4. Sub-tasking

You also need to ensure each item is appropriately detailed and teams have the necessary information to begin working on tasks. Breaking down large tasks into smaller tasks can help ensure teams accomplish them and make the items feel less overwhelming.

5. Collect and Organize Customer Touchpoints

Finally, it’s most important to listen to customer insight. Customer insight can help you write your product refinement list directly according to your customers’ requirements. Tools such as Tagado are critical for this process. It allows you to collect quantitative and qualitative customer feedback data from various sources and view it all in a single platform, making it easier to gather relevant insights that can be turned into actionable items. Customer feedback ensures that you adapt your product to meet your user’s needs, giving you a guaranteed customer base. 

Product Backlog Refinement is Essential

It may sound like a drawn-out process, but the Scrum Guide reveals that product backlog refinement only takes 10% of a development team’s capacity. Implementing the process is critical to furthering your product development strategy. The additional organization and clarity of a detailed product backlog list allow your teams to deliver faster and refine your product. Customer feedback and experience should play a key role in ensuring your customers’ needs are being met. Tools like Tagado integrate with popular customer touchpoint sources. It makes gathering data easier and ensures you can gain actionable insights for current product improvement projects and future launches. Learn more and start connecting the dots today. 

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