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Projects-to-Products: The Myth of Backlog Management

By Brian Nathanson posted Oct 28, 2019 04:20 PM

If your primary exposure to product management practices and principles has been through the agilists within your organization, you might have been led to believe that product management simply boils down to creating & grooming a backlog of features.

This is a MYTH. There is far more to product management than simply having a prioritized list of features.

First -- as I outline here -- remember that product managers (as opposed to product owners) spend the majority of their time interacting with customers. This means that you need the skills necessary to have positive interactions with those customers and convince them that the vision or strategy set for the product is the correct one. This set of interpersonal and facilitation skills are not a prerequisite for just building a list of deliverables (i.e. backlog).

Next, as you build out the list of feature requests from customers, you need to have a way to organize those features into their different value sets. A single rank ordered list, which marks a traditional backlog, is often not sufficient because a part of product management discipline is determining the proper mix of features to introduce at any one given point in time. Figuring out the different market drivers and balance between various product areas is often important and more art than science -- informed by the product manager's knowledge of what she believes she can "sell" to keep customers engaged until the next release (as defined here).

Finally, different product managers working in different areas of the same product may each have their own mixes to promote. As such, there should be a clearly delineated decisionmaking process for deciding which features go when and why -- even if the process is as simple as "the head of Product Management gets final say after listening to all the opinions."

None of this is to take away from the value of backlog management. A properly groomed backlog can make life a LOT easier when communicating internally and externally about the current state of the product and its immediate future. The point of this post is to bust the myth that product management is only managing a backlog, when nothing could be further from the truth. A valuable mix of social & political skills -- including the abilities to persuade, negotiate, and market -- are necessary in addition to the organizational skills necessary to maintain a feature list.

Know other skills or considerations that should be included here? Have an alternate point of view? Fill me in through your comments.