Tools & Resources

Product Roadmap and Jira Product Backlog Challenges and how to Fix Them

Product Roadmap and Jira Product Backlog Challenges and how to Fix Them

Many software businesses use Jira to manage their projects, organize sprints, assign bugs and even run marketing campaigns. While the platform is a powerful tool for Agile teams, software projects tend to grow over time and backlogs begin to fail for a variety of reasons. These failures tend to compound unless product managers take quick action to fix them.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most common reasons that Jira backlogs fail. Also, focusing on features like easy creation and updating issue details, drag and drop prioritization of issues, etc. can make the task easy for product managers. These can be achieved by using tools and best practices.

Jira is a powerful project management tool but it can easily grow out of control—fortunately, some tools can help. Click To Tweet

What is Jira backlog?

Software businesses collect customer feedback from a variety of sources.

For example, stakeholders demand certain functionality, product managers may need bug fixes and customers may have their own feature requests. Feature requests, in particular, can be a challenge since they come from outside of the organization via many sources (e.g., sales, support, email, etc.). Over time, these requests pile up – creating a backlog that becomes another headache for team members who are already occupied.

Why can’t I see backlog in Jira?

It is entirely possible that the backlog feature might be turned off in the project. Sometimes, organizations or teams can disable the feature intentionally to focus on the core issues – this can be the case in the initial development of any product or solution.

How do I enable backlog in Jira?

Backlog is an important feature that Jira provides, and it can be accessed in your project’s sidebar. But before it can be accessed – it needs to be enabled.

In order to enable backlog in Jira, users can select Project Settings from the project sidebar. Under this,the Features menu item needs to be selected – and the backlog feature can be enabled there.

Once this is done, backlogs get populated automatically as and when new issues are created through the + Create issue icon in the global navigation bar. You can click on the issue you are interested in and review issue details.

Is there a backlog in Kanban Jira?

The aim of Kanban is to keep the team working consistently at capacity. It allows for flexible planning and transparency, and backlogs help in creating the required focus. It can be accessed by clicking the backlog icon in the sidebar. The issue details from the backlog view require view and edit access to be changed, and you can drag and drop them into appropriate steps in the workflow.

Roadmap Challenges

The best way to address these backlogs is to aggregate external feature requests in a single location. With a public roadmap, you can aggregate feature requests from different sources—and importantly—enable customers to avoid duplicate requests with a voting mechanism. You also need a way to integrate that information with your internal roadmap.

Amoeboids Roadmap Portal – Source: Amoeboids

Amoeboids’ Roadmap Portal makes it easy to build a Jira-integrated public roadmap. Customers can log in with their JSD accounts to see the public roadmap, contribute their own ideas, and/or vote on existing feature requests. Product managers can use these insights to efficiently prioritize feature requests and incorporate them into their development backlog.

How to prioritize backlogs

Most information in Jira is stored in generic descriptions and comments. Even if you use labels (e.g., priorities for different issues), they are rarely granular enough to provide any real value. While nothing can be said against the products, documentation resources Jira software provides can sometimes be inadequate, with their inability to search, filter, sort, and prioritize information. Not having access to the issues from the backlog from inside of Jira makes it challenging for the team to decide what to work on next.

Download our Checklist of Helpful Jira Plugins for PMs to help simplify management and keep your projects on time and within budget

There are a few steps to effectively prioritize existing tasks:

  1. Determine the metrics to evaluate the backlog items. Focus on factors that impact priority and how they should be measured (e.g., stars, labels, etc.). For example, business value, development time/scope, and risk reduction may be important factors in the decision.
  2. Create a backlog scoring algorithm that factors in these metrics to standardize the decision-making process across the board. For example: (Business Value + Time Criticality + Risk Reduction) / Estimated Size.
  3. Implement a backlog priority score in Jira software documentation data using custom fields and JQL or plugins like Foxly that can help automate the process and provide helpful tools. Ideally, these scores should be automatic and integrated into your Jira instance.
Jira Dashboard

Foxly for Backlog Prioritization – Source: Foxly

In addition to priority scores, business and technical teams should meet on a regular basis to discuss issues from the backlog and reprioritize items. New tasks that have appeared recently in the backlog might command higher priority than existing tasks while existing tasks may suddenly have a higher priority if a certain high-profile customer requests them. Having a drag and drop option here can help in speeding up the ordering process. Backlogs should be fluidly handled since the reaction of customers might not be.

Scalability Challenges

Software projects are easy to manage when there’s a single stakeholder, a handful of developers, and few customers. The task becomes a lot more difficult as the project grows in size and scope over time. Jira is built for large-scale project management but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to manage rapidly growing projects.

Don’t forget to download our Checklist of Helpful Jira Plugins for PMs to help simplify management and keep your projects on time and budget.

There are several ways to scale Jira across larger teams:

  • Quick filters can help narrow boards down to a subset of backlog issues by harnessing the power of JQL to access a wide array of issue attributes. If you have too many quick filters, it’s usually a sign that you can break up a board into multiple boards.
  • Swimlanes help you order backlog multiple issues based on JQL queries, enabling you to see issues organized by things like priority or blocking status. Or you can use priority scores, as mentioned above, to sort within swimlanes across a board.
  • Card colors can be helpful for organizing multiple issues from the backlog on a board in order to make them easier to read and understand. You can even use arbitrary JQL when you create issue colors in more complex cases where you need to segregate cards based on the priority of backlog items. Another advantage is the ease with which you can drag and drop them, and reorder the stack within a few clicks.

In addition to these technical suggestions, product managers should regularly groom backlogs to keep them relevant and up to date. They should meet with stakeholders to discuss any new issues and the removal of any outdated issues from the backlog, as well as to reprioritize any existing issues (or create an issue) to ensure that the current roadmap is reflected. They can start with the product’s documentation resources Jira provides, in both data center and server versions.

Adopting an Effective Workflow

Project management is a team endeavor—regardless of the project management software that you use. If everyone isn’t following the same playbook, it’s impossible to maintain a well-organized backlog structure and ensure everyone is working efficiently toward the same goals—and workflows are at the center of effective communication.

There are best practices to building effective workflows:

  • Members from every department impacted by a workflow should be involved in its creation and implementation, including stakeholders, developers, support, and sales. Workflow diagrams are helpful when communicating the steps in the process.
  • Simple workflows are best to shorten the learning curve and avoid mistakes. For instance, a “failed testing” status may not be necessary if any failed tests simply go back into “in development” or “in progress” anyway with a note or label.
  • Transitions should be set up with conditions, validators, post functions, assignees, and properties to ensure that they are properly formatted, sent to the right individuals, and pass any other checks to ensure their usefulness.

Of course, workflows should also be flexible and responsive to any feedback from stakeholders, developers, support, testers, or even customers. Quickly change things that aren’t working by soliciting feedback and determining the best course of action to clear backlogs in the future.

The Bottom Line

Jira is a popular software project management tool, but it can quickly grow out of control. By keeping these best practices in mind, you can maintain an orderly Jira backlog and ensure that your projects remain on time and on budget with an efficient team.

If you use Atlassian products, check out our growing suite of plugins in the Atlassian Marketplace, available for both data center and server products.

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