Every business decision has to be approved by someone in charge before it can get implemented. In agile development, the product owner has ultimate say over what gets built in the next release, but there may be other stakeholders involved in your project who need to give their approval as well—sometimes all the way up to the executive level of your company or organization. The question then becomes, who makes the final call on ordering the product backlog? There are really two parts to this question, one regarding the complexity of the decision, and another regarding where the decision-maker sits in your hierarchy.
Who makes the final decision on ordering the product backlog? Often, this question comes up when project managers and product owners have their own opinions about what order backlog items should be delivered in, or when customers and stakeholders also have their own opinions about what should be delivered first. How do you handle this conflict? Let’s look at some different ways this situation could play out.
The Project Manager
Every company is different and every company has their own process for product backlog ordering. The key to figuring out who makes the final decision is finding out how decisions are made in your company. Here are some questions you should ask:
- Who is responsible for the backlog?
- Who approves a story as complete?
- What happens if two people are fighting over a story that they both think should be included in that release?
- What happens when one person assigns stories, but another person does all of the work on them?
It depends on the company. If it’s the responsibility of just one person, then they have full control and can order the backlog however they want. If it’s shared responsibility then things get more complicated. Sometimes there will be discussions between these two people about what order to place each story so that everyone agrees with where it’s placed; other times each person may make their own separate list (both lists need to be approved by whoever needs to approve it) and then compare which list best fits the goal for this release before making a final decision together; or sometimes an outside party such as management decides where everything goes based on how much time is left before this release goes live.
The Business Analyst
The final decision about what goes into your release typically rests with upper management, but it’s ultimately up to you as project manager or owner to prioritize features according to what you think your stakeholders need most. You can use a priority matrix such as MoSCoW (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have) to help you determine which are the highest priorities for your business and customers. You’ll also want to add these priorities to your product backlog so that everyone knows how important they are for each release and why. Ultimately, you’re responsible for delivering on the goals of your stakeholders, so make sure that when prioritizing features for your release, you’re taking into account their needs as well.
The person who makes the final decision is usually the client or project owner. If it’s a large company, then they would have their own product owner to make this decision. If it’s a small company, then there would be one or two people making decisions. In either case, whoever is going to make that decision should be involved in discussions throughout development and should understand what they are getting themselves into before they make any final decisions. They will know more about your business than you do, so don’t push back against them too hard when you don’t like their choice.
It can be frustrating to give up some control over something you’re working so hard on but remember that at the end of the day, it has to work for them too! And if you find yourself as an individual on a team without an assigned product owner, ask yourself who has the final say. That person is often someone with authority over budgets and timelines, which means they have less time to research your situation. Let’s say they give an unrealistic deadline with tight resources; no one wins in that scenario because you’ll need more time to deliver quality work.
The Product Owner
A product owner has many roles. One of them is deciding which items go into the product backlog. The product owner’s decisions are based on a variety of factors, including customer feedback and market research. However, they also look at how difficult an item is to implement, how much it will cost to build, how big of an impact it will have, and how long it will take to complete. In some companies, this decision may be delegated to someone else in order to make sure that all input is considered. But no matter who makes the call, there needs to be a final decision-maker for ordering the product backlog. If two people or departments disagree about what should come next, then one of them might need to back down and defer to the other person or department. It’s important that everyone involved in the process remains flexible enough to defer if necessary.
For these types of decisions, it’s important to get input from the end user. After all, they are the ones who will be using your product or service and dealing with any consequences. You should also always solicit feedback from other people in your organization. This includes upper management and key stakeholders as well as other employees that might have a good idea about what customers want. Finally, you can always reach out to external experts who may have a different perspective on what customers want and need. Even if you don’t use their services, this process is worth pursuing because it’s very likely that some of their advice will help you make better decisions. In order to identify which one of these stakeholders has the final say on ordering the backlog, think about what’s most important for each stakeholder type. End Users care primarily about whether your solution addresses their needs and solves their problems so that is one thing you should look for when asking for input. Upper Management cares primarily about how much value this solution provides for its cost so that’s something else you’ll want to ask them about when soliciting input. Key Stakeholders care primarily more than anything else if this solution will solve their problem rather than just addressing it so try asking them first before getting input from other stakeholders like those mentioned above.