Ten Mistakes to Avoid when Managing a Product Backlog

A starter pack for product owners

Sara Religi
Mar 16 · 3 min read
Picture showing a laptop, a book and other small objects
Picture showing a laptop, a book and other small objects
Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Managing a backlog is a responsibility: decisions have a strong impact on what is achieved and on the value created

Avoiding mistakes is impossible!

Whether you are a first time Product Owner or an experienced professional, we are all fallible.

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This article aims to highlight the most common errors when managing a product backlog and recognize them in order to change the approach as soon as possible and not perpetuate them.

These are the 10 most common mistakes that can be made, and that I’ve done or I’ve seen them done.

Being a Project Manager

  • Keep that in mind: you are a Product Owner, not a Project Manager.
  • Concentrate on putting into work activities that bring value to your product, minimizing the waste.
  • Don’t push the delivery dates but rather observe your team’s pace and use those observations to improve future forecasts.

Telling how things should be done

  • The team knows how to develop your product, so trust them and their solutions.
  • Focus on the explanation of the need and the acceptance criteria to validate the final work.
  • Don’t get carried away by technological fads and don’t force the development team to use them.

Prioritizing by instinct

  • Use a scientific, measurable method such as MoSCoW, Eisenhower matrix, and so on.
  • There is no single method, each PO needs to find the methodology he/she prefers and which is closest to satisfying the stakeholders’ needs.
  • In my experience, I used to create a list of criteria that influence the grade of judgment in prioritization.

Not cooperating with the development team

  • Please, do not create barriers! Business and Technology must walk together.
  • Take part in team’s life, attending dailies, retrospectives, etc.
  • If it’s possible, sit near the team’s space — this will help you understand them better and, at the same time, the team will know that you’re available in case of clarifications on requirements.

Monopolizing the standup meeting

  • The standup meeting is a very important moment for the team: listen and don’t steal the show.
  • If a specific issue or topic arises during the standup, propose a follow-up meeting.

Starting it all over again

  • Especially if you join an already existing team and inherit a product backlog, don’t impose your beliefs but rather observe what has already been built and improve it.
  • Adapt yourself where it’s necessary and introduce changes gradually.
  • Always pay attention to the existing balance.

Always saying YES

  • You can’t make everyone happy! Bring the activities that truly bring value into the backlog and deeply understand the needs of your stakeholders. Sometimes, the need can be satisfied even without creating a user story.

Always saying NO

  • Negotiate timelines. Something that can’t be worked now could be planned in a different timespan.
  • Assess whether the original request’s scope can be narrowed in order to speed up the development, reaching an MVP.

Being a lone wolf

  • Create your network and share your work where it’s possible (Lean Coffee, Lunch & Learn moments, etc.).
  • Build a strong partnership with the Scrum Master.

Imitating Steve Jobs

  • Develop your style rather than imitating someone else’s one.
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This article was inspired by this webinar I hosted on December 16th 2020, organized by @AgileTalks and @Codemotion

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