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How Product Owner and Scrum Master Can Contribute to Effective Product Backlog Management

The product backlog is of mutual interest to the Product Owner and Scrum Master, as it is the key to quality product deliveries. Here are a few tips that can help the Product Owner and Scrum Master contribute to effective product backlog management.
February 9 · 6 min read
Learn how to Contribute to Effective Product Backlog Management

In Scrum software development, the Product Owner and Scrum Master are the two main roles for effective software development. They both work with the goal of developing the best quality product by following the Scrum principles. Although they both have different roles to play in the project, yet their roles overlap in some areas. One such area is product backlog management.

A product backlog is a single source of truth that includes an ordered list of work/tasks that the Scrum team is going to work on next. In simple words, the product backlog includes task details such as new features, bug fixes, existing features enhancement, product extensions, and similar others. It is the responsibility of the Product Owner to maintain and update the product backlog as the project proceeds. Scrum Master can help the Product Owner to ensure effective product backlog management. So, let's discuss in detail how the Product Owner and Scrum Master can collaborate to have top-notch product backlog management.

The Role of Product Owner

The Product Owner is the key stakeholder responsible for the overall direction of the project. The Product Owner determines what features to work on next and also prioritizes the features for the development team. Overall, it is the duty of the Product Owner to maintain the product backlog and ensure that every member of the Scrum team has a proper understanding of the project's main goals.

Although the Product Owner plays a key role in effective product backlog management, he/she should avoid taking part in micro activities, such as how the team is going to execute sprint, etc. In addition, the Product Owner also acts as a communication medium between the Scrum team and higher management.

The Role of Scrum Master

The main duty of the Scrum Master is to make sure that the development team follows the Scrum framework. A Scrum Master acts as a leader and coach and ensures that the team works effectively by removing any distractions and hurdles that come their way. Moreover, he/she facilitates daily standup meetings and other collaboration among the development team and other authorities. Scrum Master also works closely with the Product Owner to ensure that the product backlog is up to date for every sprint.

Product Owner vs. Scrum Master in Product Backlog Management

Now that we know the main role of the Product Owner and Scrum Master, you might be confused about how their role behaves with product backlog management.

The Product Owner is the one that is responsible to maximize the product value through the efforts of the development team. The approach to making that happen can vary for different organizations and Scrum teams.

Scrum Master is the one responsible for the success of the project by facilitating both the product owner and the development team. Scrum Master works with the Product Owner to ensure that the expectations from the team remain within the Scrum framework. Moreover, Scrum Master also provides valuable insights to the Product Owner to ensure that the product backlog remains up to date.

Tips for Effective Product Backlog Management with the Collaboration of Product Owner and Scrum Master

The product backlog is of mutual interest to the Product Owner and Scrum Master, as it is the key to timely and quality product deliveries. Therefore, there should be an effective collaboration between the Product Owner and Scrum Master that can lead to effective product backlog management. Some of the main tips in this perspective are as follows:

Tip #1. Use Right Techniques to Improve Product Backlog Management

The Product Owner creates, maintains, and communicates the product backlog as the prioritized list to the Scrum team. Scrum Master can facilitate the Product Owner here by finding the right techniques or tactics that can help in defining the right product goal and managing the backlog effectively. One such technique is to have frequent "refinement meetings" in which the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the development team can discuss to refine the backlog for the next sprints.

Tip 2# Engaged in the Vision

It is the responsibility of the Product Owner to set up and communicate the vision of the product to the Scrum Team through the product backlog. However, it is the Scrum Master that is responsible for bringing the team in line with the vision and making that vision turn into a reality. Therefore, both the Product Owner and Scrum Master should remain actively engaged with the vision to ensure that the team remains aligned with the vision throughout the project time period.

Tip #3. Continuous Backlog Grooming

The product backlog is not a one-time thing. It evolves, changes, and shrinks as the project goes on. Therefore, it is important to groom the product backlog continuously so that it remains authentic and always presents the most prioritized items on top. It is the duty of the Product Owner to groom backlog, but Scrum Master can play a helping hand here. Scrum Master is more linked with the development team and better knows their strength and weaknesses. Therefore, when a sprint is completed, the Scrum Master can interact with the Product Owner to refine the product backlog so that the next sprint becomes more successful.

Tip #4. Facilitate in Estimation Meeting

When the Scrum team gathers for estimating product backlog items, the presence of the Product Owner and Scrum Master is a must. The Product Owner is responsible for narrating the user stories to the development team and clarifying all their doubts. Similarly, Scrum Master can provide morale support to the team. Moreover, the Product Owner and Scrum Master should also discuss and finalize the right estimation technique, such as Planning Poker, Async Poker, T-Shirt Sizing, Bucket System, and similar others. They can also participate in the estimation if they have a technical background in that area and the development team allows them to contribute.

Tip #5. Focus on What and Why

When the Product Owner and Scrum Master are collaborating on the product backlog, their focus should not be on "find and how" solutions. In many cases, Product Owners have a past career as business analysts, so they intend to find solutions to the problems themselves. However, that's not the job of the Product Owner or Scrum Master, as their main focus should be addressing what and why while managing the product backlog.

Tip #6. Avoid Multiple Product Backlogs

When preparing a product backlog, the Product Owner can get a lot of suggestions or requests that are sometimes not valuable for the time being but can get valuable later on. So, instead of adding those requests to the main product backlog, the Product Owner adds them into another product backlog to remember them afterward. However, this practice is not recommended because if the request is important, then it will automatically come up again soon. So, there is no such need of having multiple product backlogs and increasing the work/stress level.

Tip #7. Avoid Every Product Backlog as User Story

The user story is like a template that presents a product backlog item in the form of a story. When estimating the product backlog items, the Product Owner most likely presents the items in the form of user stories. However, not every product backlog is required to be presented as a user story. Backlog items that are related to bugs or technical debt normally don't have that much information, so they don't have to be described as user stories. Therefore, the Product Owner should look into every backlog item and write user stories for only those ones that fit well with the story-based format.

Tip #8. Enhance Team Morale

The Product Owner and Scrum Master can play an effective role in uplifting the team morale throughout the project, which eventually leads to the timely completion of product backlog items. Proper communication and ensuring that the team is never burdened with work that they cannot complete on time can give a sense of confidence to the team and increase the productivity of members.

Tip #9. Make Product Backlog Transparent

Transparency of the product backlog can have an impact. For example, let's assume the product backlog is placed on the wall or some other place from where the development team or other key stakeholders can look at it. This will let anyone know what the team is currently working on and what the team intends to work on in the future. This transparency helps the team to remain well-prepared beforehand, while let key stakeholders know the process in a more refined way. Therefore, the Product Owner and Scrum Master should try to make the product backlog as transparent as possible.

Wrapping Up

Product backlog management can lead to quality products and more value to customers. The Product Owner is the key player in defining and managing the product backlog. However, Scrum Master can play a vital supportive role in managing the product backlog effectively and as per the strength of the development team. By following the above tips and more, depending on the organization's business model, the Product Owner and Scrum Master can contribute a lot to having effective product backlog management.

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