Product Management 101: Backlog Management & Burndown

You may be good at delegating project management to other people who are skillful and trained in it, but there are a few things about backlog management and burndown that you should know.

Aerial View of Parking Lot

Managing the Backlog

Prioritization is the key to good backlog management. You and your team may have 40 ideas for features in the product, but you need to narrow it down to the top 5-7, for example, that are of the most strategic value. You then schedule those top priorities for the next “sprint,” an agile term that refers to when software development is done.

You should also prioritize a second tier of tasks on the backlog – to be addressed after the top tier of priorities. Everything else – all those lower-priority items – should go on a different list and not be on the backlog. This reiterates that good backlog management is to keep it lean.

If your backlog has everything and is overloaded, you’re in trouble. Nothing of strategic value will get done well or on time.

Another best practice is to develop a scoring system that gives points to each task and how much resources are needed for each. By using points, you can know which tasks will need more resources, such as more hours for the engineers to work on a certain task.

The Burndown Chart

The “burndown” is an interesting agile term that refers to the amount of time left to get the project completed. The purpose of it is to keep the project on track to deliver the product in a desirable timeframe. The chart is a visual representation of this tracking of time against work progress.

In the two graphic examples below, you see the burndown chart shows the “ideal” timeframe for completion (red line) and the actual line depicting the time remaining (blue line). It shows the completed work each day against the projected timeline for the whole thing. Teams use this chart to measure progress and to keep track of the “velocity” of the team’s work.

What we glean from good backlog management and burndown are:

  • Visualization of time, tasks and resources is common in project management
  • It’s a race against time to develop the product with limited resources
  • Prioritization is one of the most important things in project management and product development
  • Data that tracks the work being done gives the project manager up-to-date information to make adjustments, reset expectations, reallocate resources and plan accordingly
  • A backlog is a living document
  • Agile tools and methodologies work together to increase efficiencies