A few years ago, the owner of a software company approached me for advice. He was looking for ways to improve product quality for one of his software products and was struggling to manage competing priorities.
His biggest challenge wasn't that he didn't know what to do. It was that he didn't know where to start. Like most business owners, he had a laundry list of tasks he wanted to complete to improve product quality: defects that needed to be fixed, new features he wanted to add and system upgrades that needed to happen to keep his product up and running. But customer needs and business demands were monopolizing his team's time. They were struggling to keep up.
It was a problem I've heard many times before—especially from technical teams—so I started by asking him a question: Do you have a prioritized backlog? When he said no, I suggested he create one.
A backlog is a helpful tool for any company with a product (tangible or intangible) as it's the central place for all product-related tasks. A prioritized backlog is organized to show the team which tasks to work on first.
Each task is reviewed by a member of your team (sometimes called the product manager) who then helps evaluate the benefit of the tasks compared with the others in the queue. Then they schedule them to be completed.
Prioritized backlogs are a great tool for teams looking for ways to improve product quality because they help you focus on the right things at the right time. Here are a few ways product backlogs have helped me improve product quality—and how they can help you, too.
1. Gives the team direction.
One of the most common responses I hear from teams after creating a prioritized backlog is how much it helps them focus.
The majority of the teams I've worked with genuinely want to improve product quality but struggle to do so because they're often pulled in different directions. Prioritized backlogs give everyone involved clear direction on what to expect, which can yield better results.
2. Plans for maintenance and administrative tasks.
A big issue I hear from product teams is that backend tasks—like system maintenance and upgrades—are usually the first things to be deprioritized when a customer request comes in. This can cause long-term problems (such as system outages, delays, etc.).
With a product backlog, you help reduce the risks of leaving out important tasks because maintenance and administrative tasks are prioritized alongside other requests. And your team can set up a product development process that accommodates the tasks that help you improve product quality from the get-go.
3. Improves team communication.
A prioritized backlog is more than just a list of tasks sitting in a queue. It's a conversation starter.
For companies that have never had a backlog, creating one requires syncing up with your team and discussing all of the different types of requests that are in the queue. While going through the list of items your team is being asked to work on, you'll usually find ways that you can do things better.
For example, we often found duplicate requests, development requests that were really training issues or fixes that had already been remedied and were about to be released. By evaluating each request, we were able to identify and address these quickly.
We also found that creating and talking through our product backlogs created natural training opportunities that helped our entire team. And since product backlogs are a living thing, our teams were having conversations focused on how to improve product quality year-round.
4. Helps create a business case.
When you're familiar with what's in your product backlog, it can be easier to prioritize your work. Whether it's adding a new feature that will help differentiate your product from another in the market or justifying a code freeze while you implement system enhancements, your stakeholders will respect your decision more when there's a valid business case.
When it comes to making decisions about how to improve product quality, a well-prioritized product backlog can help you fit everything in that you need to do while keeping up with customer demands.
Read more articles on product development.