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Agile Backlog: Grooming & Prioritization

Instructor: Stephen Meyer

Stephen has worked as a Project Manager and is PMP certified, as well as certified by the Scrum Alliance.

Project requirements in Agile are broken down into more manageable forms and kept in a backlog. This approach allows for more flexibility for the order in which requirements are completed. Learn about Agile backlogs and how they are groomed and prioritized.

What is an Agile Backlog?

The basis of any project involves requirements. For Elaine's company, which is transitioning to Agile, the main question is around the project requirements. From the individuals requesting project work to the individuals completing project work, the concern is that it is handled in the best way possible. In Agile, this involves a backlog. Elaine's goal is to help her team understand what a backlog is and how it works.

An Agile backlog, sometimes referred to as a product backlog, is the grouping of work available for the development team to take on next. This does not include the work on which the team is actively working. The work moves from the backlog to the team's active work. The resulting active work status depends on the methodology used to implement Agile.

The type of work in the backlog could include project work items, bugs, and technical tasks. Depending on the team's responsibilities, production support items could be included as well. These typically take the form of a user story, which is a project work item defined in terms of desired functionality for a specific user. The backlog items could take a different form, but the goal is to be concise and distinct from other work items.

Once Elaine has defined an Agile backlog, the next question is who is responsible for it. Since it primarily consists of the work needed to complete the project, the Product Owner, who is the source of project work, owns the backlog. This is a crucial responsibility because the backlog is not a static requirements document but a grouping of work items that is flexible and can be changed. This can occur at any time since the work is what is available next, not what is currently being completed. It must be consistently prioritized and groomed. These are the next things that Elaine reviews with her team.

Prioritization

One of the goals in Agile is to complete project work to a point where the minimum viable product, or MVP, is reached. This is when enough of the product is complete to release it and start receiving a return on the investment. Additionally, as the product is used, it provides an opportunity to learn and receive feedback. In order to achieve this, work must be completed and organized in the backlog in order of priority.

One of the main factors that dictate priority for project work is the personal priority or concerns of the Product Owner and other stakeholders. Sometimes these concerns are directly related to the MVP, where they are looking for a return on investment as soon as possible. Their priorities could also be market-related. They might be trying to be first to market with a new product or meet existing customer demand.

In addition to the Product Owner or stakeholders' personal priorities, there are some practical factors that could influence the prioritization of the backlog. One example would be prioritizing the work that is easiest to complete or the fastest to complete. The goal would be to focus on the low-hanging fruit first. This is most often a factor when there are limitations on resources, either for cost or time. With limitations, the reality is that some project work might not be able to be completed. If this is the case, the Product Owner might prefer to have smaller items complete rather than a larger item only half complete.

Another practical factor that influences prioritization is a situation where working on one item makes it easier to complete another. Ideally in Agile, the work items are distinct and independent of each other, but this is not always the case. Even if the second item could be done without doing the first, it might take more time and effort to do so. This would be inefficient and is not desirable. It is important for the Product Owner to consider relationships between work items when prioritizing.

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