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How to organize the product backlog to maximize happiness?

Scribe to Entrepreneur

Ordering your Product Backlog is determining your product strategy to maximize happiness. From there, you can represent it in a roadmap format as you need. Your product strategy is unique and resides in a changing environment. Unfortunately, there is no secret formula that will guaranty success.

Here are some perspectives to help you order your Product Backlog.

Review where your product stands today

Understanding where you stand today will help you define your way forward. Models are helpful to establish evaluation grids that help us compare ourselves with the market. Here are just a few examples:

  • Kano Model: The model helps you evaluate how good is your market fit and which features uniquely please your customers.
  • Porter’s 5 Forces: The model helps you to assess the various competitive forces at play in your industry.
  • PESTLE Analysis: The model helps you understand the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental environments in your market.
  • SWOT Analysis: This will help you evaluate your ability to evolve in your context. This is particularly useful if coupled with one or more of the previous models.
  • Product Life Cycle: The model helps you understand the maturity of your product in your market. The action you take may greatly differ depending if you are starting in a market or if your product has been the staple of the industry for 20 years.

Visualize your assumptions

Understanding the various assumptions you make in your product strategy may guide you to decide which one to validate first.

Problem framing workshops are great tools to visualize those assumptions. They are also helpful in aligning stakeholders around your strategy.

Here are a few examples of problem framing workshops:

When evaluating which assumption you want to validate first, you may use any criteria that fit your context. If you are unsure about which assumptions to test first, Jeff Gothelf, the Lean UX author, proposes the Hypothesis Prioritisation Canvas to help out.

Once the assumption selected, we suggest you do the cheapest test that could indicate that your assumption is true. As you obtain more evidence that the assumption is true, invest more in the idea. Continue as such until you can fully validate the assumption in production.

This approach is described in Gothelf’s model, the Truth Curve, and its purpose is to help Product Owners invest a large amount of time and money in large ideas that are unproven, creating waste.

Don’t worry about assumptions that get disproven. In fact, if you never have, what are you really learning?

Remember that your capacity to learn is more valuable than your capacity to plan

We are so used to doing plans that we often define performance by how closely we stick to them. The approach reinforces our belief that we have the “right” plan. Consequently, if we misunderstand the needs behind the plan or if its objective moves, we end up with an “Oops!” moment where we release a suboptimal product.

Fact is that in a complex environment where we try to increase happiness, plans do not hold. We are simply unable to accurately forecast what will happen. The question is no longer about following a plan, it is about validating frequently that we are still going in the right direction.

Now, let’s look at Team 1 who focuses on learning quickly through frequent releases. This produces the shortest path to our goal while enabling us to change direction quickly if the goal changes. In this scenario, ordering becomes less important as it is constantly revised.

This is even more visible if you give the same Product Backlog to two Product Teams and provide them with the same definition of “happiness” for the same Stakeholders. You ask them to order their Product Backlog. We would get two different orders. Is one better than the other?

The answer becomes “No” as both will quickly learn and adapt their Product Backlogs accordingly to move toward their Product Goal.

With this mindset, we refined our Product Backlog for the purpose of learning. We may use ordering models and users’ feedback to generate ideas of how to order, but we’ll focus on incrementally discovering those ideas instead of planning to realize them assuming they are good ideas. The Product will take shape as we learn how it generates happiness.

When in doubt, follow the Product management rule of thumb 

Product Management literature states that successful products do not aim to please the Producers. Producers’ happiness is the result of the product’s success.

Looking at the picture below, we indicate that maximizing happiness in zone 1 is a pre-requisite to maximizing happiness for the Producers.

Society and Community members include influencers and potential critics. If we ignore those Stakeholders, we may start to see a negative image being developed of our product that will, in turn, reduce everyone’s happiness.

Makers create the product. Happy Makers innovate more, perform better, and engage more in making the product a success.

Clients pay for the product and they do so based on the perceived Users’ happiness. The price, the contract, and the warranty are some of the most important product features for Clients. Understanding their needs will help Product Teams get out of the “fix contract” trap.

Ultimately, however, your product success is directly linked to your ability to make Users happy. After all, solving the User needs is the focus of developing a product. As such, in order to maximize the happiness in zone 1, Product Teams will pay special attention to Users’ happiness.

Align your stakeholders around your strategy

Even the best strategy will fail if your stakeholders are not working in concert with you. Try to turn your Sprint Reviews into product strategy refinement sessions. By doing so, you will increase the transparency over your ordering and ensure alignment.

In some contexts, arriving at an agreement among Producers on Product Backlog ordering is a challenge in itself. Sometimes, opinions diverge; other times priorities conflict. Having misalignment will hurt the Product Team’s ability to innovate. In those contexts, we may want to favour alignment over strategy, especially if we can inspect and adapt the Product Backlog continuously.

In the previous context, ordering becomes more an exercise in Stakeholder management than true strategy work. Ordering techniques such as the White Elephant or 25/10 can help those Product Teams get to that alignment effectively.

This ends the exploration of the four great challenges of Product Owners. For any questions, feedback, or training requests, you can reach me below.


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