Visual backlogs provide a complete understanding of the scope of a project by showing the full set of user stories and their relative importance. They make it easy for every member of an agile team to participate in defining a successful project by frequently re-evaluating user stories and their priorities.
How to Build the Backlog
Step 1: Write user stories.
Before you start building your visual backlog, you’ll need a clear understanding of the people who will be using the product and their workflow. You don’t necessarily need a dedicated UX person doing research to accomplish this. Try starting a day or two earlier and building a reality map first. Or, incorporate one or two users into your session to provide insight into their process.
Once you have done this, gather a cross-disciplinary team of people who are knowledgeable about the product. Make this team relatively small so everyone can actively participate in writing stories. When someone thinks of a new story, read it aloud and place it on the board. Keep going until the team has trouble thinking of more stories.
Step 2: Group user stories based on workflow.
Start to arrange the stories horizontally based on the sequence in which a user might accomplish those goals. As you gain an understanding of the distribution of stories across the user’s workflow, establish a few distinct groupings and write labels for those groups across the top.
Step 3: Prioritize!
Walk through each story and assign it a value for the following metrics:
- Value (Low, Medium, High)
The relative importance of this goal to the user specified in the story. Use Low for stories that the user could live without and High for critical stories.
- Frequency (1 – 4)
The relative amount of time the user will spend accomplishing the goal specified in the story. Use 1 for stories that happen infrequently and 4 for stories that users encounter all the time.
Now arrange the stories vertically based on the combination of these numbers. High – 4 stories go at the top (most important) and Low – 1 stories go at the bottom (least important).
The two axes of this backlog (usage sequence and importance) organize stories in a way that helps the team set meaningful sprint goals. The vertical axis ensures that the team understands the most important stories to build first. The horizontal axis encourages the team to select a distribution of stories that they can use to demonstrate a complete workflow.
Try the following ideas for using the visual backlog throughout the lifecycle of a project:
- Place sticky notes and sharpies near the backlog and invite passers-by to post questions or comments.
- Engage stakeholders by walking them through the backlog prior to the start of the project.
- Draw a line on the backlog that illustrates the team’s goals for the current sprint.
- Encourage the team to have daily stand-ups in front of the backlog and update it to reflect their progress.
Jeff Patton introduced the concept of visually organizing user stories and using them to define sprints in the article How You Slice It.