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Getting the Most Out of Your Backlog Management Tools

By Andrew Diodati

Senior Solutions Architect, BreakFree Solutions

Some of the most beneficial ways of utilizing your backlog management tools are being skipped over or ignored. We’re here to help you get the most out of your backlog management tools, remote or not. These tips are specifically referencing Jira, however, can be applied to the backlog management tools of your choosing.

These strategies will allow you to accelerate your outcome, so it’s important not to skip over these tips.

How to handle cross-team dependencies:

Lean into it – you have everything written down and enumerated, so rather than using mental math, you can physically see what needs to get done, that way you’re not only organized but your team can discuss the card interactions and dependencies between the two.

Promoting open and regular communication between relevant teams. Initiate this in all of your weekly touch-points. We recommend focusing your weekly touch-points on one team at a time rather than three or four, for example. This allows for a more open and effective weekly touchpoint. We can’t stress this enough: each team pulls up their backlog. Most teams will do a high-level overview, but it’s more beneficial for your team and their productivity in the long term to physically show which sprint you’re in and what product backlog items (PBI’s) you’re working on and what’s coming up in the next sprint.

Issue Linking is a great way to utilize your product backlog management tools. Using different statuses to logically link stories across teams not only encourages thorough communication, but we are going the extra mile to link the issue to the actual story. Now it’s not exclusively existing in anyone’s head, it’s there in the backlog for everyone to see.

Commenting on issues uses stories as a small, focused chat room. We recommend really emphasizing features that are available to you and your team – that way if someone is out of office, all of the information is documented for the other team members. While some of these may seem obvious, I can’t stress enough how many stories I see with no comments or details, therefore creating a lot of mental math and unnecessary memorizing to do.

How to plan on vendor/outsourced releases and dependencies:

Utilize the story titles. Put important information in brackets within the title to increase visibility, making it easier for you and your team to find what you’re looking for, faster. Story linking is relevant here as well, assuming you have connectivity with your vendor’s Jira instance as well. Putting stuff in the title is the workaround.

How to forecast work in the future:

This could be its own blog post because of the amount of Waterfall vs Agile here, but for now let’s discuss forecasting for future work quarters. Leverage versions and epics. The epic report becomes much more interesting looking at thematic groupings of stories and features if you’re under a good agile paradigm. Version reporting ends up being more appealing and useful for reconciling the bridge between companies that are used to the traditional waterfall method and Agile. If you didn’t have this metadata in there, it would be extremely difficult to have any picture or narrative surrounding feature releases. This is a good tool to take advantage of if you need to communicate an estimate of time to stakeholders.

Distributed Backlog Management:

Story templates. Create a story template so your team has an easy and correct outline when creating new stories. That way, your whole team will have organized stories with all of the correct information in the right place. You can either teach your team to clone or copy and paste – it’s as easy as that and it’s important to do it. You can also create a guide for metadata within the template.

Comment at your product owner. This is a great way to track what questions or concerns you may need to discuss with your PO and also to bring newly created stories to your PO’s attention so he/she can prioritize them.

Make sure you have a process with your team for creating new stories. Utilize brackets – add [NEW] at the beginning of stories, that way your product owner can prioritize the backlog without confusion.

While some of these tips may come across as obvious, from my experience in the field, majority of teams do not utilize these tools in the most efficient way possible. Utilizing your product backlog management tools to the fullest of their capabilities will not only allow your team to succeed organizationally, but functionally. By implementing these strategies with your team, you can focus better on the outcomes that need to be done in a more effective way.

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