Backlogs: How many do you have?


Backlogs are an inherent part of software companies — many articles talk about the need for a backlog, prioritizing it iteratively, having more details for higher priority items, etc. but there’s not much guidance on how many backlogs should a company have. And that’s what we’ll discuss in this blog post.

Some people I’ve come across think there needs to be one backlog and pick the top items from the list for implementation. That’s a flawed approach because in a typical ‘single backlog approach’ the items would be weighed in a mix of several business priorities and at the end of the day you’d have achieved less-than-100% of few things and not 100% of even one thing.

So, how many backlogs should a company have?

One?

Two?

Five?

One for each VP… maybe

multiple-goalsImage credit: thedigitalprojectmanager.com

The correct way to tackle backlogs is from the perspective of business priorities. Below is a simple step-by-step guide:

1. Jot down all the corporate objectives & business initiatives, with their preferred timing (let’s call them ‘goals’)

2. Allocate budget for each goal

3. Have a separate backlog for each goal

4. In each backlog, prioritize items with value, effort, and impact to its specific goal. Typically, the stronger an item impacts the goal the higher is its priority. This way the rank of each item in the backlog could be assessed against the impact to its goal.

5. Time the backlog implementation (based on the overall goal timing, see #1)

6. Using the allocated cost/resources, knock down items starting from the top of the list

I believe this method helps us to concentrate our resources, remain focused, and create meaningful impact to the business.

Would love to hear how many backlogs you have and on what basis do you build them!

Management-by-OKRs (MOKRs)


A lot has been said and written about the roles & responsibilities of product managers but not much is discussed about the role of leading a team of product management professionals.

In this article I’d like to share some thoughts around the key responsibilities of a product management leadership role — it could be a Head, Director, or VP depending on the size and structure of your company.

In addition to the usual suspects such as product vision & strategy, I feel a product leader’s key responsibility is to build product managers. Building a great product management team requires best-in-class processes for setting goals and achieving them.

Most of us would have come across Management By Objectives (MBOs), invented by Peter Drucker in the 1950’s.

Some of us (read millennial) will be familiar with the concept of Objectives & Key Results (OKRs), a popular goal setting mechanism used by Google.

okr

OKRs stand for Objectives & Key Results — a lot of information is available on the Internet, but some of its fundamentals are the following:

  • OKRs is a business success enablement tool and helps align individual efforts with company vision, business direction, and product priorities.
  • OKRs are individual goals to move the business forward.
  • OKRs are dated and scoped to a specific time period, usually quarterly.
  • Objectives are bold and ambitious goals that contribute to business & product success and push you to rethink the way you need to work at peak performance. Ambitiousness of the goals should take you out of our comfort zone.
  • Key Results are well defined concrete deliverables with objectively measurable metrics to gauge achievement of the goal.
  • OKRs is not a laundry list of everything you do, itโ€™s a representation of your top priorities.
  • The motivators that started projects in the first place have to be achieved. Instead of tracking delivery of projects and tasks, you should measure the indicators that motivated them in the first place.

Now on to Management by OKRs (MOKRs) — after much thought, I have realized that OKRs is a powerful tool for leading a team of product professionals, hence the term Management-by-OKRs.

Leadership_icon

Product leaders could use OKRs as the key mechanism to drive their product and project teams to greatness.

And this simplifies the core responsibilities of a product leadership professional into three levels:

  1. Primary focus will be on the vision, strategy, and company level OKRs
  2. Then, focus on the product team’s OKRs. Lead team in setting OKRs and achieving success in them.
  3. After that, think about chores (routine and mundane tasks)

This way almost everyone is focused on things that matter the most to the company and product success.

Would love your thoughts on MOKRs!

Top 4 things you should NOT do as a product manager!


There are several articles on what product managers should do and what their attributes should be, and even there’s one in my blog.

This time we’ll keep it a little different and see what things a product manager should not do. Here’s my top 4:

1. DO NOT panic in difficult times

Don't Panic

Most teams in product development organizations start with some reference, some starting point, some sense of where they’re starting; however, product managers do not have that luxury. It’s almost a 100% of the time, product managers have to start work and make progress with a clean slate and when things are highly disorganized and chaotic.

A typical day would have at least one of the following situations:

a. Uncomfortably Exciting
b. Exciting Uncertainty
c. Uncertain Excitement
d. Excitingly Uncomfortable

This is where a lot of new product managers find it difficult to handle. The most important thing when we encounter these situations is not to panic.

We’d win half the battle if we don’t panic.

2. DO NOT think your idea is the best

Best Ideas

Let’s agree — most innovations in the history of mankind have come from technical folks. Products managers have to focus mainly on the problem statement, who the target audience is, why a certain problem needs to be solved, and its alignment with company vision. And not get too hung up on the specific idea/solution which solves the problem.

Product managers can have a perspective of how to solve the problem, but in a competitive open world anyone could have an idea that would solve the problem in the best manner. So, let’s keep our ego and prejudice aside and be open to ideas regardless of where they come from.

3. DO NOT stop communicating

Communicate

Communication is one of the key attributes of product managers. Regardless of the situation (good or bad), whether progress has been made or not, whether the project is on track or is derailing, communication is of utmost importance.

It is with this one tool that product managers look for allies and rally everyone around them in achieving the vision. The moment a product manager stops communicating, he becomes a punching bag.

4. DO NOT lose focus of the vision

Focus

And now the last one on the list — not losing focus on the vision. As a project progresses, there will be all kinds of distractions and chaos, and there needs to be someone who is taking a step back and regrouping as often as optimal to ensure the team is focused on the vision.

And who would that be other than the product manager. It requires a great depth of patience to keep reminding the team about the purpose of the project. Focus is not about moving in a straight line, it’s about aligning with your purpose. If a product manager loses focus on the vision, failure is guaranteed unless there’s some kind of a miracle.

Hope the article is useful. Cheers.