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Product backlog management tips that drive results, not chaos

In product management, backlog optimization is a key part of delivering high-quality products to users. Keeping your team’s backlog well-prioritized drives clear focus, streamlines workflow, and helps you deliver impactful products that delight customers.

Workflow tips

Last updated

7 Oct 2021

In this article, we show you how rockstar product managers can effectively manage a backlog—and how qualitative and quantitative data helps you clearly understand which product features drive results, and which ones need to be deleted or archived.

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💪 Prioritize with confidence

Hotjar's product experience insights help your product team confidently decide which backlog items need to be prioritized—and why.

What are the benefits of effective backlog management?

A product backlog is a centralized list of ideas and initiatives for things like new features, changes to existing features, bug fixes, and infrastructure optimizations. The backlog is dynamic, updated constantly, and never completed.

Efficiently managing your product backlog provides the foundation for successful teams and products. Allowing too many ideas and changing priorities to drive your backlog will become unmanageable and waste your most important resources: people, time, and money.

And anything that strains those resources beyond capacity will naturally have a negative impact on your top priority: your customers.

Successful product managers have a strategy to keep teams engaged, avoid chaos, and effectively manage an endless number of ideas and initiatives in their backlog—items have clear definitions, business values, and estimations of the resources needed to complete them.

When you manage your backlog with a disciplined, process-driven, and collaborative approach, you'll see:

  • Improved team focus: teams don’t waste time arguing over information that’s not been validated.

  • Streamlined workflow: teams aren’t working on tasks that are redundant or inefficient.

  • Impactful delivery: features are delivered on time and meet business objectives.

  • Customer delight: beyond meeting customer needs, you're building authentic relationships that stand the test of time.

Now, it’s all well and good preaching the virtues of a well-managed backlog; what you want to know is how to put this into practice.

Luckily, at Hotjar, we not only give product management teams the tools to better prioritize their backlog: we also have our own agile product management team with a wealth of experience to share in getting it done.

5 backlog management tips for product managers

Here are five tips from a product management team that’s been around the block:

1. Start with a product strategy

Proper backlog management starts with a clearly written and articulated product strategy. The strategy needs to define:

  • Product segmentation. This includes product positioning, market opportunities, and target customers.

  • The problem the product solves for the customers. How does each feature address a user’s pain point?

  • How the product stacks up against competitors—and how it will evolve. Are the key competitive features clearly differentiated?

A deliberate strategy tells the team where to go to serve a particular customer, and which backlog items are a priority to satisfy those customer’s needs.

💡 Pro tip: it’s important that everyone on the team fully understands your product strategy. Try recording a video to explain your strategy—it’s much easier to convey the message that way, and you reduce the risk of miscommunication or misalignment.

2. Make the backlog manageable with prioritization

An exhaustive backlog will become confusing and difficult to manage. To keep the backlog short, you must prioritize ruthlessly—and user feedback can help you do that, by understanding which initiatives matter most to your customers.

Use feedback tools like Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) or Net Promoter Score® (NPS) surveys, or Hotjar's Incoming Feedback widget, to understand user behavior and the product experience.

Armed with your user feedback, you can review your product backlog and take the following actions to prioritize your ideas:

  • Remove low-priority items based on customer experience surveys.

  • Keep aspirational items off the backlog until they’ve been properly vetted.

  • Further prioritize features and ideas based on a Cost of Delay (CoD) analysis.

💡 Pro tip: when prioritizing your product backlog, understand which ideas or initiatives have dependencies—i.e. items that can't be completed without another item being completed first. Items with dependencies may need to be deprioritized until all other necessary features are built.

For example, if Hotjar Recordings and Incoming Feedback indicate customers are having trouble finding a particular feature of your product, you’ll want to fix it right away—but if that feature has underlying issues preventing it from working on a fundamental level, you need to address those issues, first.

3. Use the word 'no' diplomatically

One of a product manager's challenges is that they can feel pressured to accept every request from stakeholders and team members—but the goal is to delight your customers, not to fulfill every request or say ‘yes’ to every idea. Drive results and efficiencies (not to mention profitability) by saying 'no' more frequently.

It’s important not to become an internal blocker and remain open to new requests, but saying ‘no’ helps you prioritize without distraction.

I do believe that saying 'no' is a necessary part of the product management discipline, but the most successful product managers I’ve worked with (measured by the trust their stakeholders put in them) can more often than not reframe a cold 'no' to stakeholder requests into language that sounds more like 'Not now, here’s why…' Product managers who bring stakeholders along for the prioritization journey help them see a more complete picture of initiatives and ideas that are all competing for scarcity we all share: time.
Meg Murphy
VP of Product at Hotjar

4. Manage product backlog as a team

Responsible and inclusive product managers have consistent, frequent, and well-managed collaboration meetings with stakeholders. It’s common practice to hold stakeholder meetings on a regular basis—but be sure to respect everyone's schedules by limiting meetings to only those who are necessary, while still encouraging participation from across the team.

You can do this by collecting feedback async across the team; sending out an internal survey ahead of each meeting; scheduling regular AMAs; or by putting individual team members on a meeting rotation, giving each person an opportunity to participate.

Every product team member will have valuable feedback, so use these meetings to discuss how to prioritize the backlog to increase understanding and buy-in. This will lead to a clear understanding across the team of what has been prioritized and why.

5. Keep stakeholders updated

Share transparent updates with stakeholders to communicate the current status of your backlog.

Updates could take the form of giving stakeholders access to a live dashboard featuring an up-to-date picture of your backlog. Or it could be a regular email bulletin to relevant people in the company, featuring just a snapshot of the dashboard.

Which update is more suitable will vary depending on how many people you need to keep in the loop and the granularity of insights required. What’s needed might also change throughout the year—for instance, you may want to issue more frequent updates during a high-profile project that’s moving very quickly, such as an impending product launch.

💡 Pro tip: keeping relevant people updated is necessary, but it’s also important not to spam people with information they don’t need.

Keep in mind that a lot of stakeholders won’t need granular detail on every item in your backlog but would be interested in a high-level status update. For example, you could highlight items where the priority level has changed since the last update, but leave out the details about your decision-making process.

Other high-level information stakeholders may be interested in could include how many issues have been resolved since the last update, how many have been added to the backlog, and metrics that indicate efficiency (i.e. how long the oldest item has been in the backlog).

How Hotjar can help you prioritize your backlog

Product experience (PX) insights give you quantitative and qualitative data about user behavior and UX to help you validate hypotheses and prioritize ideas and initiatives in your product backlog.

Hotjar's PX insights tools—Heatmaps, Session Recordings, Incoming Feedback, and Surveys—help you understand how users experience your product and let you collect direct, VoC feedback from them so you know which product changes to make first.

With Hotjar, you can confidently decide which backlog items need to be prioritized—and why.

Here are a few ways Hotjar can help you collect insights to evaluate and prioritize your product backlog:

  • Relive the user experience. Hotjar Recordings let you empathize with your users and experience your product from their perspective to see what works—and what doesn’t. This will give you a clearer picture of which features need the most attention.

  • In-the-moment feedback—in your customer’s own words. Hotjar Surveys and Incoming Feedback give you voice of the customer feedback about why customers stay—or why they leave. Addressing issues that cause customers to bounce or exit (or even churn) from your site should receive the highest priority.

  • Continuous data capture over time to make accurate comparisons of features. Hotjar’s Heatmaps show you where users spend most of their time, so you can prioritize which areas need the most immediate attention.

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💪 Prioritize with confidence

Hotjar's product experience insights help your product team confidently decide which backlog items need to be prioritized—and why.

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