Update: Part 2 and part 3 are now online!

Product owners have the challenging task of ingesting feedback from multiple sources, organizing it into a meaningful format, and communicating out to the product teams.  Feedback is a critical part of the product life cycle.  We can’t iterate to make our products better without it, as we talked about in our three-part series on collecting feedback a few weeks ago. But what do we do when we get too much feedback?  Backlogs quickly become unmanageable.  As product owners if we become less adept at our backlog we lose hold on the future direction of our product.

Establish a Triage Process

Once your product has a feedback stream flowing, you will need to take action on it.  Input should always be coming directly from your customers, using tools like BonfireJIRA Issue Collectors, and JIRA Mobile Connect–at Atlassian we use JIRA to manage user feedback on our products at https://jira.atlassian.com.   Not all feedback in the backlog is valuable however.  Set up a simple feedback loop to triage all incoming feedback.  You’ll want to understand each piece of feedback and see if it is:

  • Valid and on target for action: “When I click button X I expect Y to happen but instead Z happens”
  • Represented elsewhere: two tickets express the same feedback.
  • Not relevant to the product direction: “There should be another button for option X”
  • Not cost effective to implement: “Hitting esc in the browser should save my form text should I want to re-use it”
  • As designed – the product team made an explicit decision to work this way.  Feedback here should be carefully reviewed.

managinginput

If your product backlog is clogged with inactionable feedback, you’ll have a harder time moving forward.  Send the inactionable feedback to a parking lot.  We close tickets of this type with the appropriate resolution.  Closed issues are not lost!  We can target searches of closed issues just like open ones.  Tagging an appropriate resolution makes searching closed issues much more efficient.  You never want to delete feedback as you may want to come back to it, thus take the time to ensure you can quickly find it later.  JIRA’s resolution fields can be customized to add each of the cases above.  Epics, components, and labels can track large feature areas for review at a later time.

Tier Your Backlog

It costs a product owner time for each issue he or she reviews. The JIRA team uses a three tier backlog to denote levels of review for each piece of feedback. If we expand the first “passes review” section above we can see two more levels of fidelity in our backlog.

managingoutput

In the raw feedback stage the product owner quickly decides whether to keep or pass on a piece of feedback.  If the feedback is kept, then it gets moved to the unprioritized state.  This means the product owners intend to take action on it at some point, but it’s not in a state where it can be handed off to the product teams.  Once the product owner has flushed out a particular story it moves from the unprioritized state into the ready for feature teams queue.  This queue is the tight, ordered backlog that the product teams can quickly pull into future sprints.

What happens when the ready for feature teams queue gets low?  The product owner only has to pull from the unprioritized queue.  He or she doesn’t have to look over the entire backlog as there is a higher fidelity set of data ready for review.  Rather than review potentially hundreds (or thousands) of issues, the product owner can see a set of a much lower magnitude.

GreenHopper, it’s not just for Developers

GreenHopper is the agile plugin for JIRA.  Many development teams use it to track their work in an agile fashion.  Product owners can use it to track their backlogs.  The JIRA PM team tracks their backlog using GreenHopper using a Kanban board.  Kanban boards model a flow process so it is easy to see issues flow from feedback into features. Note, this is a different board than development uses.  Think of it as the precursor to the development process.

productbacklog

The JIRA roadmap backlog has four major states:

  • Not Ready Yet – Raw feedback
  • Unprioritized – Committed to the back log, but not ready for handoff to development
  • Ready for Feature teams – The feature teams should work on the highest priority items first
  • In Design (PM and Dev) – The feature story is actively being worked on.

The PM team then uses swim lanes to group issues by epic so all of the related issues are contextually close to one another on the screen.  Swim lanes can be easily collapsed so the PMs can focus on one epic at a time.  This helps the PM quickly traverse the backlog.

Ready to transform your backlog?  Try GreenHopper today!

Try GreenHopper

 

For more, visit atlassian.com/agileOr follow @ChetRong on Twitter! (Just don’t follow his advice.)