Agile BAAgile RequirementsProduct Owner

7 Ways to Organize your Backlog

7 Models to visualize your backlog

Let’s have a quick look at the different types of backlogs that could be used to visualize value.

1. User Story Map

User story mapping is an easy, collaborative exercise that helps you define your user’s journey with your product, to research any gaps, and what value might be uncovered in the gaps. So we can say it’s a way to move out of large feature prioritization unknowns and instead keep your user’s needs and actual use cases in focus.

In contrast with traditional backlogs, story maps showcases real workflows used by real users. Instead of prioritizing all the small user stories against each other, story maps let you see everything within the context of your overall strategy.

The helicopter view is what makes this visual mechanism so powerful to me personally. Another benefit is on the spot prioritization (breadth of functionality over depth) allows for quick visualization of releases required and also makes the MVP stand out clearly.

2. Idea Funnel Backlog

As the name infers, this backlog takes on the shape of a funnel, with the newest requirements at the funnel entry point. Prioritizing using this backlog structure really aids prioritization and focus whilst also keeping things agile without the waist associated with formal structure.

The funnel lends itself to various permutations regarding how work is depicted, for example, you could depict swim-lanes as phases, releases, Program Increments or mapped to Feature/Epic. The funnel backlog now serves an additional purpose: that of a Roadmap!

3. Opportunity Backlog

Product backlog the output of discovery phase.

Jeff Patton and others popularized the method as a counter to the behavior that the earlier product roadmap evoked as it was treated too much like a project plan. True agility requires one to understand that as we uncover the realities and requirements through product discovery, that some things may be removed from the roadmap because they aren’t proving to be viable and hence a pivot is required.

As many in Product Management already use opportunity assessments to hash out the parameters of an opportunity, Jeff Paton suggests that Product Management and Ownership keep a list of prioritized opportunities as their backlog. Remember that on an opportunity assessment we attempt to answer these questions:

  • What problem are we trying to solve? (what is the why behind this)
  • Who are we trying to solve this problem for? (persona)
  • How will we know if we succeed? (what is the outcome we are hoping for/ what do we hypothesize the benefits will be)

The biggest inputs to this type of backlog are product vision and prioritized business objectives.

4. Classes of Work Backlog

Breaking a backlog up into classes of work requires you to take every item n the backlog and categorize on ‘type of work’. I’ve heard schools of thought referring to this model as ‘risk-adjusted backlog’ and most recently as Capacity Planning in SAFe. (Learn more about this backlog type in any of our SAFe courses).

This could be done as easily as tagging work items in backlogs. Examples of such classifications could include technical debt, strategic execution work, business as usual (BAU), small enhancements etc. 

5. Treemap Backlog

Treemaps were introduced in 1990s by Dr. Ben Shneiderman as a way of visualizing ranked (that is, tree-structured) data.

Tree Map
A treemap

In this diagram each area is sized to relatively represent the size of each of the nine provinces in South Africa. From it you can see that the Northern Cape is at least double the size of the Eastern Cape, and four times the size of KZN.

In order to make use of the visualization of a product backlog using a treemap you need to mentally visualize as hierarchical data. We can do this using a mechanism whereby we think about requirements in this manner. Let’s take a hotel booking system as an example:

  • As a guest, I can book a room;
  • As a guest , I can make reservations for the restaurant from the hotel app;
  • As a guest, I can have all my preferences recorded on my hotel app by the hotel, and just verify their entries in order to enjoy the same level of service every time

The treemap lends itself to numerous methods of classifying and visualizing backlog data. Some examples may include

  • States of work represented in different colors;
  • Complexity (effort) involved in a backlog;
  • Work according to strategic theme;
  • Work classified by priority;
  • Etc.

6. Impact Map Backlog

Impact mapping is a planning mechanism that enables teams and companies to clearly communicating assumptions and business objectives in order to make better roadmap decisions. Everyone involved in the product development life cycle like Product Owners, Product Managers, Scrum Masters etc. will benefit from using this tool.

Some benefits of the technique include that it is fast, collaborative and visual. It makes engaging with a broad spectrum of stakeholders a lot easier which in turn allows us to uncover hidden assumptions. It brings just the right amount of structure for facilitating fruitful planning and prioritization.

To start impact mapping, identify which behavior changes would make a big impact on the users of your product, capture them with post-it notes or write down in the middle of a whiteboard. Group impacts by personas, actors or categories. Identify deliverables that could satisfy those impacts and group them to the side. On the opposing side add those organizational objectives that would be supported by the highlighted impacts. Once you have a sense of the related items, connect them to make a mind map. Prioritize from the goals to the impacts.

agile impact mapping
Example Impact Map

7. Circle Backlog

Circle backlogs draw out the creative element in people so the array of different flavors is astounding. Some examples include classifying backlogs in the circle:

  • Big view, Preview and Now view (time horizons)
  • Circle by classes of work
  • By Program Increment (See SAFe training)