Agile Web Development: Top tips for prioritising your backlog

It’s lauded by experts as the most organic and effective way to manage a project, but the agile web development process can mess you and your team up very quickly if not done right.

Many web designers and developers follow a ‘waterfall’ process in which project assets move from one person to another in a sequential order. However, the waterfall allows no room for change or error, which is why the more fluid and forgiving agile process has grown in popularity over recent years.

This collaborative method is helpful because problems can be fixed and identified easily, and designers can incorporate customer feedback going forward. But, while an agile process has many positives, it can also hit some snags when it comes to prioritising the right tasks in an efficient manner.

Here are some top tips to keep your agile web development backlog on track.

Tip #1: Have one product owner

This really is the dream situation for all agile web development teams. Communication between the technical and business teams is key to a successful agile system, but sometimes this is easier said than done. Projects can get messy when there are too many stakeholders involved and development teams find it much easier to complete the project at hand if there is just one person controlling the backlog and setting priorities.

The dream product owner is someone with experience, who has the power to make all the decisions. They should understand the overall process requirements and be easy to contact whenever needed, as the job rarely offers a quiet day. You’ll find the backlog is far more efficiently managed with a single qualified product owner.

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Tip #2: Organise the stakeholders

Unfortunately, solitary product owners that are familiar with all business and development processes aren’t common. This can be due to a number of issues ranging from large product footprints to there being too many user interests and considerations for one person to take charge of.

In most instances, development teams will find themselves working with a collection of stakeholders. The problem here is that everyone thinks their own area is the most important one and, therefore, the prioritisation process can easily become inefficient. Too many cooks and all that…

It’s very important to make it clear from the beginning who has the power to prioritise or re-prioritise certain items in the backlog and why these people get to make the decision. If certain stakeholders are experts in certain areas, it makes sense that they would have a better understanding of what to prioritise and the development team will feel happier following their lead.

Tip #3: Define stakeholder’s goals clearly

Even if the team of stakeholders seems organised, it’s still a good idea for them to clearly define their goals for the technical team, so developers have a better understanding of what’s important. Not only does it put everyone on the same page from the start, it also allows for an easier decision-making process down the line as the tech team now has an idea of what the priorities are and won’t have to check in for every little decision.

For example, an ecommerce business that is redeveloping their site may have the following goals:

  1. Attract new customers
  2. Increase conversions
  3. Keep existing customers
  4. Improve customer service

Now that the development team has a list of goals rated in order of importance, they can assign values to each one, and calculate the priority of individual stories or tasks in the project backlog.

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Tip #4: Take more care with rankings

Speaking of assigning values, it’s important to be thorough when it comes to prioritising tasks – it doesn’t have to be a perfect system, but there should be SOME kind of system in place. The business team, especially when there are individual stakeholders involved, are going to rank all of their tasks as ‘top priority,’ so having a simple, ‘high, medium, low’ ranking system is going to result in almost everything being prioritised as ‘high’.

The defined goals will help you work out a ranking system, as will considering whether tasks concern the project’s basic (must-have) features or features that will just add some sparkle. Once you’ve settled on a measurement system, the entire team can rate importance on a scale of 1-5, sparing everyone a long and potentially heated discussion about what should be prioritised.

Tip #5: Don’t forget to groom

Once the project backlog has been created and the process put in motion, it’s essential that the product owner keeps an eye on how things are going. The beauty of an agile web development process is that it’s flexible and creative, which means that the backlog will most likely fluctuate throughout the project’s duration.

The product owner or stakeholders should do regular reviews – a process known as ‘backlog grooming’ – to make sure development teams are always working on the most important tasks as this is something that can change from the initial backlog. Customer or user feedback, new figures and technical snags can all require a re-evaluation and this should be done with no hesitation.

If you want a stationary, fixed plan and hate change, agile development is not for you, but if you and your team work well on the fly, an agile system can really up your game when combined with the tips above.

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