What is a product backlog?

With ‘traditional’ development strategies, it is often simple, even trivial, to work out who has responsibility for a product. With teams working on the same project over extended periods of time, simply following the ‘chain of command’ upward will get you to the key decision maker.

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With Scrum-based developments, this isn’t always possible. Teams often move between projects, and the organisational structure is usually less clear cut. This can make communicating and organising tasks difficult.

This difficulty is why Scrum development strategies use the concepts of product owners, and the product backlog.

What is the role of the product owner?

The product owner is not the end client, and usually not the person who put the project into motion, but the one with responsibility for seeing the project through to completion.

In an ideal world, the product owner role will fall to someone who takes an active interest in the project, and is willing and able to be the de facto project manager. In many cases, though, responsibility isn’t given to an individual, but is abstracted to a team or an entire department, which can make decision making incredibly difficult.

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So what is the product backlog?

As anyone who has undergone Scrum master training in Dublin, through althris or others, for Scrum development to succeed, there needs to be a clear breakdown of the tasks required for project completion.

This is the role that the product backlog takes. At its core, the product backlog is a list of tasks which will be handed out to scrums, along with time estimates and often some sort of prioritisation.

The product backlog should be treated like a living document rather than a roadmap, in that as development moves forward, tasks can be removed, altered, and added to fit changing requirements.

In an ideal world, the task of curation and prioritisation should be handled by the product owner, as without a clear owner, tasks can easily be duplicated or mishandled, potentially leading to redundant work being done.

The product owner isn’t far removed from the traditional project manager, and the product backlog isn’t too different from a project roadmap, but fundamental differences do exist. Scrum development is not suited to the ‘traditional’ prescriptive approaches, so new concepts have had to be created to define the new roles.


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