October 16, 2020
Product that begins with an idea goes through different stages from development, launch, growth, maintenance to retirement. In the early stages, while thinking through the idea, talking to prospective customers, brainstorming with the team, collecting information from stakeholders, you often come up with a list of to-do items. A product catalog is an agile tool that helps to capture and catalog all those items, prioritize and manage the work efficiently throughout the product life cycle.
In short, a product catalog is an ordered list of deliverable items that you intend to build over time. It is also often referred to as “single source of truth” as there is only one product catalog for an entire product. You will add, update or remove items periodically to keep the catalog latest and greatest at all times.
The product catalog is often created by product owner – a person responsible for the vision and direction of the product.
This may be founders at an early stage startup or subject matter experts in larger companies. Enterprises often designate a person with deep domain knowledge as a product owner. In general, the product owner should be someone with domain expertise, understands customers well, ability to set the product direction and prioritize work. The person does not necessarily need to be technical as the role is more focused on functional aspects of the product.
Even though the product owner takes ownership of the product, the PO works with other stakeholders in collecting requirements, and ensuring the product meets stakeholder’s expectations. The PO also works closely with the development team, answers any questions and is actively involved through the development process.
The product owner is the main authority, and responsible for success of the product. Hence, the PO should have the decision making authority and ability to set the product direction thus maximizing the value/ROI. The product owner is also responsible for signing off or approval of the work product.
Product development involves multiple stages, various work activities, different stakeholders, deliverables, and work items. Without an organized product catalog, identifying, tracking and managing work effort becomes real hard. The product catalog helps to capture all the items in one place, so you can manage it efficiently.
You can create the list using a simple spreadsheet or more sophisticated agile tools. FreelancingTeams built-in planning tool helps capture the product catalog, prioritize and get the work done – all in one place.
As the product matures, the catalog is often used to communicate the product direction to stakeholders – development teams, customers, management, investors, service providers, etc. Hence, it is important to main the list up to date.
If you’re developing your product using freelance teams, the product catalog is even more important as the catalog is used as a contract or milestone deliverables. The acceptance criteria is also used as a sign-off criteria for the deliverables.
Any work item that is part of product development, improvement or maintenance should be captured in the product catalog.
Some of the work items captured in the catalog are:
The product catalog will grow fast as the product matures. To keep the list manageable, “right” size the work items – not too broad or very narrow. The item should be small, easy to develop, test and approve. Below are some of the INVEST properties.
Independent – should be self-contained. Ability to develop and test without too many dependencies.
Negotiable – not a strict contract with every single detail, but leaves room for discussion.
Valuable – Has business value to the end user.
Estimable – Should be able to size/estimate the work.
Small – Ideally will take less than a week for 1 person to implement.
Testable – Should be able to specify the tests to confirm that it has been implemented correctly
The catalog items should be generic and focuses more on the functional requirements, rather than the technical aspects. The development team use the information to develop appropriate technical solution and design for the work item. Keeping the catalog item high-level and easy to read, helps not only the development team, but also, other stakeholders to understand the work items.
At first, the product catalog is derived from the product roadmap and user journey map. As the roadmap provides high level visual representation, the product catalog captures detail information including features, improvements, bugs, etc.
The product catalog will evolve over time. You may not have all the features upfront. As you find new information, you can continue to update it. It is advisable to compile and prioritize the features for at least a few iterations. Once you hire a development team, you should have at least few weeks worth of work items ready. Otherwise, the team has to wait as you try to figure next set of features.
Once the product is under development or released to customers, you will find additional information. Keep the product roadmap and catalog updated periodically. This would help you to plan, prioritize and manage the work efficiently.
Change is inevitable. As the product matures, you will often see new feature requests, changing requirements, priorities and market conditions.
Backlog grooming is a process of reviewing the product catalog periodically and making necessary adjustments as required. As stated earlier, the product catalog is “single source of truth”, which should reflect latest product state.
Usually, the entire team participate in the backlog grooming process during the sprint planning or retrospective. If you do have organized sprints, then setting sometime either weekly or bi-weekly would help manage the product catalog more efficiently.
Product development is long process, which involves many stages, stakeholders and deliverables. The product catalog is one of the key planning tools that can help you capture and manage the work items efficiently. This may seems time consuming at the beginning, but over time you will find it very valuable as you can manage all the items in one place.