It All Starts With A Backlog

Ben Lee

Ben Lee

CEO and Co-founder of Neon Roots

Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Neon Roots, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.

It all starts with the backlog. When you built the second story to your house, you didn’t instruct painters and roofers to get started without some kind of blueprint, right?

The same goes for building a web or mobile app. In order to build functional software, you need to start with building what we call “the product backlog.” While the product backlog is intended to be a living document (aka – something that changes, gets updated, and modified over time), it’s critical that you start any software development project with a backlog first.

The backlog is where you put your business requirements, technical requirements, etc. It encompasses the feature set of your mobile application and the ideas that you should be filling this document with.

In order to accurately communicate what your business requirements are or user stories, you need to develop a product backlog. It’s the only way to answer the two most hard hitting questions you will want to ask as a Product Owner: how long and how much?

Last year, we developed our own SaaS tool to achieve this. Some agencies use 3×5 flashcards; others use whiteboards and take pictures. We decided to build software to digitize this crucial experience and necessary first step in a project. We kept seeing “Live Chats” and agencies market display ads with “FREE ESTIMATE” or “GUARANTEED ESTIMATE FOR YOUR APP IN 10 MINS” and it frustrated the heck out of us. That’s an impossible task. Anyone who truly knows how to build software and work in an agile framework knows that’s a sales tactic and not something that can be possibly achieved in “10 mins.”

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably stumbled across our internationally recognized inception product, Rootstrap. In a nutshell, it’s a two-week workshop where we help early-stage startups and enterprise organizations go from napkin sketch to clickable prototype in 2 weeks. It’s been a “startup in the box” solution for many Silicon Beach early-stage startups that have gone on to raise millions in funding since joining us on this ride. FanBread, Rootstrap veteran, is a classic example of one.

With the success of Rootstrap, we were extremely motivated to productize a whole other aspect of our business process and possibly the least sexy but most crucial: the product backlog. We added some functionality to also digitize important functions we do in a traditional Rootstrap like validating your value proposition and writing your hypothesis and testing it. It is designed to be the ultimate mobile app playground for you to start building with your building blocks.

user stories gif

Whether your intention is to develop your app with your own team, freelance it on ODesk, or continue to build your mobile app with Neon Roots, the product backlog and the user stories always have to be Phase 1. It’s the universal language of understanding user stories…in simple English. 🙂

The process of writing user stories allows you to write the intended action of each feature, keeping it super objective and leaving no room for miscommunications or communication breakdowns.

Also seeing all your feature-set in a visual list view gets you as a Product Owner starting one of the most critical aspects of building software: prioritization. That is: what can we nix for v1, what is considered a “nice to have,” and where is there room to shave some scope to accomplish the aggressive timelines I’ve set out for myself?

Some feel this is a laborious task and usually skip it in the software development process. They feel that “user experience” is more important or fleshing out pretty pixels is the first step. Well, I’m here to tell you that not only are those people wrong, but they will ultimately fail and waste more in the long-run. That is money, time, and resources.

So, let’s build you a world-class app to scale to millions of users. What’s next?

  • Arbor Roadmapping (week 1). Building out the foundation of your app, the lean canvas, the epics, the user stories, and the MVP and staged releases (eg. v1.5, v2) as well as delivered backlog solutions estimated by our engineers to give you an airtight estimate for each feature.
  • 2 meetings w/ our ScrumMaster (3-4 hrs of your time).
  • All your user stories ready to export to Trello, Pivotal, Github issues–production ready.
  • Design Sprint Kick-Off (week 2). Now we make things look sexy. Once the blueprint is ready, the MVP backlog has been groomed, the user experience designers and interaction designers go to town! We deliver mid-fidelity screens for every single flow of your web or mobile application along with 3-4 glam shots which are the pixel perfect PSD’s that have the visual language defined.
  • At the end of this sprint, we package everything up in a clickable prototype so you can go raise capital, demo your app to stakeholders, or further refine it pre-development.

That’s how we build world-class products and have helped raise companies acquire millions of users or raise millions of dollars. You in?