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How DEEP is your product backlog?

All good Scrum teams need a good product backlog, but how do we know if ours is up to the task?

“DEEP” is a handy acronym developed by Mike Cohn that describes the ideal attributes of a high-functioning product backlog. If you find yourself drowning in a huge list of stories, then DEEP is a great way to start digging your way back out. 

Let’s take a closer look at each of the criteria to get a feel for how it will work on our own backlogs.

Detailed Appropriately
We want the stories near the top of the backlog, which our team will be working on next, to be well defined enough that the team can be productive with them as soon as they pick them up.

A good indicator of this is that the stories near the top of the backlog are smaller and more fine-grained, but become progressively larger and less specific as we start to move down.

Estimated
Each item on the backlog should be estimated ‒ even if it’s only a rough estimate. This helps us prioritize each story against the others and also helps us project completion dates for each batch of work.

But, since the stories at the top are better defined than those at the bottom, we accept that the estimates will become less precise as we move down the backlog.

Emergent
The product backlog is not a fixed object. It is a living document that evolves over the course of the release. We should expect the items in the backlog to change priority, new ones to be added, and even some to be removed.  

As we progress through the release and learn more about the needs the product is trying to solve, the product backlog will evolve to reflect this knowledge.

Prioritized
Our product backlog is prioritized with the most important items at the top, and the least at the bottom. This ensures that the team is always ready to work on the most important item next. A good rule of thumb to help us know if our backlog is prioritized appropriately is to walk down the backlog and imagine that our product is suddenly shipped – including only those features above the line.

If we’re not happy with the features that were shipped or if there were other features that we wish had been included instead, then we need to re-prioritize our backlog.

Looking Through the Lens DEEP
DEEP is an incredibly powerful tool for helping us tune our product backlog and keeping it in shape. Much of its power lies in its simplicity; not only is it easy to remember, but also we can apply the criteria to our own backlogs in a surprisingly quick amount of time.

If you’d like to see DEEP in action, or learn more about how to create and maintain a great product backlog, check out my course, "Agile Release Planning," which is available now on Front Row Agile.