"The PO is responsible for the PBL. The PO prioritises the backlog and determines the order of items based on the value per item."

Sander de Zwart, Delivery Manager

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Prioritising the product backlog

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Prioritising the Product Backlog

It is an established part of your job as a Product Owner (PO): prioritising the product backlog. It is a challenging role because you have to properly assess the value of items so that it aligns with stakeholders' wishes. In this blog, you can find out what the product backlog (PBL) is and how to prioritise it.

The Product Backlog: what is it?

Let's start with a short explanation of the PBL. The PBL is a list of all of the tasks (items) that are required to achieve the final product. In their structure, items often take on the form of a user story. A user story is a short description, a story, of what an end user wants. It states who the end user is, what he wants and why.

The PBL is the only source of requirements for changes and innovations that are applied to the product. In the PBL, you will find features, functions, requirements, adjustments and fixes that together form the changes that will be applied in future releases of the product.

Product backlog items often contain test descriptions that indicate when an item is 'done'. Multiple Scrum teams may work on the same product. In that case, they work on tasks in the same backlog. Product backlog refinement takes place while the product is being worked on. PBL refinement involves adding details, estimates and prioritising tasks. This process is carried out by the PO and the development team together. The higher an item is in the PBL, the more likely it is to be clearer and more detailed than items lower down in the list.

Responsibilities and value assessment

The PO is responsible for the PBL. The PO prioritises the backlog and determines the order of items based on the value per item. They usually determine the value of items based on input from stakeholders. The most important customer requirements always appear at the top of the PBL. Finally, a selection of items from the PBL is selected for the sprint, the so-called 'sprint backlog'.

The sprint backlog is put together during the sprint planning. Besides comprising a selection of items, the sprint backlog serves as a plan clearly showing how a sprint goal is going to be achieved. The PO indicates which PBL items have highest priority. The development team determines how many of these items will eventually be dealt with in the sprint. For this reason, it is very important that the PO is able to estimate the value of the items. The PO represents the needs of the customer, and an important part of that involves working with stakeholders.

The PO is therefore ultimately responsible for prioritising the backlog, but we are, of course, happy to help wherever necessary. For example, we give advice on which items should be dealt with consecutively (in the same sprint) from a technical point of view. Very occasionally, we take on the role of the PO when there is nobody from the customer's side who can fulfil this role. However, we prefer to leave the role of the PO to the customer, since a PO:

  • from the customer's side has domain-specific knowledge that we do not have;
  • in all likelihood has more knowledge of stakeholders' wishes and needs;
  • has in-depth functional product knowledge from the customer's side and understands the underlying technical aspects.

rb2 is an Agile agency and therefore always uses Agile frameworks such as Scrum, Kanban or Lean when working on projects. Take a look at our way of working to learn more about how we work in an Agile way.

Do you want to know more about Sander?

Sander has worked as a Delivery Manager on many projects, including Meetingselect and Staatsloterij. He likes to inspire people, to grow in their role and to meet technical challenges.

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Sander de Zwart

Delivery Manager

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