What is a product backlog?

Developing a new product or working on an existing one can be daunting. There are many people involved and everyone has an opinion about what should be included.

A product backlog is a tool that helps businesses prioritize and manage the development of their products. In this article, we will explore what is the product backlog, why it is important, and how to create and maintain one.

Let's get started.

What is a product backlog?

A product backlog is a prioritized list of features, improvements, and bug fixes that a product team plans to work on. A product backlog is a dynamic document that evolves together with the product.

A product backlog is owned by the product owner who is responsible for creating, maintaining, and prioritizing the product backlog. The product team is responsible for delivering the backlog items, often called the user stories.

A user story is a backlog item that describes the feature or functionality from the user's perspective. Each user story includes title, description, and acceptance criteria, which are the conditions that must be met for the user story to be considered complete.

A user story is usually described using the following pattern:

As a (type of user), I want (some goal) so that (some reason).

The product backlog is an essential tool for agile development teams, and it's used in various agile methodologies, including Scrum. It's a living document that helps the team stay focused on the most important features and functionalities while keeping the customer's needs in mind. 

Software solutions, like Jira, can help product owners and others to build and maintain product backlogs in the right format.

Why is product backlog important?

A Product backlog helps the team stay focused on the most important parts of the product (features, functionality, issues). The product owner prioritizes the items on the backlog based on the customer's needs, business objectives, and technical feasibility.

This helps to ensure that the team is working on the most important features first, which can lead to better results and higher customer satisfaction.

Another important aspect is communication and collaboration. A product backlog helps the product team to work together to create, refine, and prioritize the items. This ensures that everyone on the team has a clear understanding of what needs to be done and work to achieve it.

Third, a product backlog provides transparency and visibility into the product development process. The product owner can share the product backlog with stakeholders, such as executives. Some companies go even further by opening their product backlog to the public - this is usually done together with the public roadmap.

Many open-source projects, like WordPress, have public backlogs for transparency and community-driven development.

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How to create and maintain a product backlog?

Creating and maintaining a product backlog is challenging but essential for the success of a product. To create a product backlog, you can follow these steps:

Define the product vision, objectives, and roadmap

The first step in creating a product backlog is to define the product vision, objectives, and roadmap.

The product vision is a high-level description of what the product is, who it is for, and what problems it will solve. The objectives are more specific, measurable, and time-bound goals that align with the product vision. The product roadmap is a high-level overview of the product strategy that helps to navigate the product development process.

Create user stories (and epics)

The next step is to create user stories for the product backlog. User stories should be brief, simple, and deliverable. User stories are described from the customer's perspective and use a specific format.

User stories can be grouped into epics to define larger functionality (or vice versa to split larger features from an epic into user stories).

Prioritize backlog

The product owner is responsible for prioritizing the items on the product backlog based on the customer's needs, business objectives, and technical feasibility. This process is often referred to as backlog grooming where some of the user stories can be removed from the backlog.

When prioritizing, the product owner should take into consideration the following factors:

  • Value (for the customer)
  • Business objectives
  • Time to market
  • Technical requirements
  • Dependencies
  • Risks
  • Costs

Refine and update backlog

The product backlog is a dynamic and ever-green document that requires regular reviews. As your product grows, market changes, business objectives update, or customer feedback comes in, it should be reflected in the backlog.

The product owner should regularly refine and update the product backlog together with the team. The process can include splitting user stories, changing priorities, and updating requirements or estimates. It is also important to remove low-priority items to keep the backlog clean.


A product backlog is an essential tool for businesses that want their products to be successful. It helps teams to be transparent and work together towards a common goal.

Product owners need to take accountability for managing product backlog to keep it clean and up to date.

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