Balsamiq’s Priority Review Boards: A Small, Simple Process with a Big Impact

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A behind-the-scenes look at how we keep our product development teams aligned and productive.
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Quarterly roadmap meetings are great for making big plans, but how can we make much-needed smaller, everyday decisions?

Is your product team aligned?

Developing software is hard. You need to balance the needs of the users, the needs of the business, your current bug count, and more. You constantly have to prioritize what to work on, and make it fit with the resources you have available.

If you’re a solo developer / entrepreneur, this is fairly easy to do. Once your team grows, it gets harder.

New stories — bug reports, feature ideas, or development chores — pop up all the time. If you don’t have a way to triage them quickly, they can be very distracting and kill your team’s productivity.

Without constant gardening, cruft accumulates in the backlog, and projects lose momentum.

At Balsamiq, we have a simple process to help us stay on top of it all, which we call Priority Review Board, or PRB for short.

What is a Priority Review Board?

A PRB is a group of people who are tasked with regularly reviewing current and incoming engineering work for a specific product.

The group is made up of the following people:
  1. The Product Manager — to help prioritize work. They often lead the Board.
  2. The Customer Support Lead — they can explain what the new stories are about, and help prioritize. They are the voice of the customer.
  3. The Development Team Lead — they know how projects in development are going, and how busy each developer is.
  4. The Quality Assurance Lead — they have their finger on the pulse of the current status of the backlog.
That’s it. Only 4 people, to keep it as efficient as possible.

There’s no one from Design, Research, Documentation, Marketing, Sales, Legal, Operations, etc. This is because the PRB only exists for prioritizing, nothing else.

The PRB has a Slack channel for urgent things, but its main task is to have a weekly PRB meeting together. We do it on Mondays, and it only takes us 30 minutes each time.

How to set up a PRB

It's very simple.

You need to keep 3 separate lists for stories:
  • An inbox — the list of new stories to review.
  • A backlog — the list of stories that are current, or approved to be worked on.
  • An icebox — a list for things you may work on in the future.
Your product team needs to agree on these 3 rules:
  • New stories go to the inbox immediately, without discussion — this one is hard to do, especially for new feature ideas… they’re so juicy and fun to think about! 😊 You'll need discipline here.
  • Only the PRB looks at the inbox and has the power to move things to the backlog — the fact that PRB includes all the important stakeholders makes this acceptable to the rest of the team. If you really want to push for a story, tell your representative and they’ll fight for it at the next PRB meeting.
  • Stories in the backlog are pre-approved, and up-for-grabs — developers don’t have to worry about prioritizing, they know that if something is in the backlog, PRB has decided that it’s OK to work on it next.

How to run a PRB meeting

We usually follow these 3-steps:
  1. We review the status of all current projects in development.
  2. We review the current stories in the backlog (we use Pivotal Tracker).
  3. If appropriate, we pick new stories from the inbox, to work on a soon as a developer is available. We move the others to the icebox.
How do we decide which stories to pick each week? See these two newsletters for details.

This meeting is a time to discuss any blockers, any urgent new story, what the development team’s current focus is, and make decisions together on how important each new story is.
 

That’s it!

I know, this may seem obvious to many of you, but you’d be surprised at how such a simple process can have such a big impact on team speed, cohesion, and morale!

Once you have a PRB in place, you can also use it for roadmap planning, project scheduling and staffing, icebox gardening, and more!
 

Product news

Hold on to your hats, because our next release in November will be AMAZING. 😁

It will include our #1 most requested feature, Nested Symbols! That's right, you'll be able to have symbols inside symbols — no more crazy workarounds!

But wait, there’s more! We’re also shipping two small-but-amazing features to help you iterate on existing UIs — here’s a little sneak peek just for you, our inner circle:

Wireframing Academy news

Another busy month for the education team and our Wireframing Academy. 

Billy did a webinar on content-first design at the end of last month. Watch the recording here, in case you missed it. And if you want a deeper dive, here’s a recording of a conversation between Billy and Piccia Neri about it from this year’s Design for Conversions conference.

Finally, we keep on pushing with our new UI Control Guidelines. New since last month: Tabs, Accordions, Tree Panes, App Bars, Menu Bars and Menus, and Lists. Still many more to come!  
 

UX/UI links for October 

Company news

As you’re reading this, we’re in the middle of our company’s fall virtual retreat! As usual, it’s a mix of team-building activities and important discussions to improve how we work together. Great stuff!

Help us make Balsamiq better! Could you please take this very quick survey about your experience with our tool? Thanks!

Sponsorships and raffles: this month we highlight Mind the Product, You Got This, Black Men Talk Tech, and more!

Notable recipients of our Free Software Program:
  • Benaroya Research Institute, dedicated to advancing science that will predict, prevent, reverse, and cure diseases of the immune system.
  • CARE Waitakere Trust, which offers high-quality counseling and a number of life skills programs to those in need of support.
  • What Can YOU Do? which aims to help people “Get involved. Make a Difference. Make a Noise!” per the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

That's it for this month!

I hope this was useful for you. We plan on publishing an article about PRBs on our website soon. We’d love to include a quote or two from you, our inner circle. How do you solve product team alignment on your team? Reply to this email and let us know!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team
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