Who Can Add Items to the Product Backlog?

My wife, daughters and I use Wunderlist to manage our shared grocery list. Any time one of us notices something we're out of, that person adds it to the grocery list. Then, whoever is taking their turn at doing the weekly grocery shopping checks items off the list while in the store. It works really well.

I’m thinking about this because someone asked me recently about who on an agile team can add items to the product backlog. Can only the product owner add items to the product backlog?

My view is that anyone on a team should be allowed to add to the product backlog. A tester may come with a good new feature idea. The tester is allowed to add that item to the product backlog. The same is true for any other role on the team.

Although anyone can add to the product backlog, it is the product owner who prioritizes what the team works on. This means that while you or I may contribute a new idea to the product backlog, if it's a bad idea, the product owner will probably put it near the bottom of the product backlog (where it may never get worked on).

The product owner may even take it off the product backlog and throw it away if it's something the product owner does not want, or is so low priority that the product owner knows the team will never get to it.

Note that I still consider this as a team having had a chance to add that item to the product backlog. The item was added even if only momentarily. It was then briefly considered before the product owner removed it.

So, anyone can add an item to the product backlog. But it's the product owner who determines what happens to the product backlog item.

When adding groceries to Wunderlist, I like to tease my wife that my dog has gotten a hold of my iPhone and entered his grocery request for "BONEZ." Yes, although, my dog is capable of using Wunderlist on an iPhone, he types in all caps and cannot properly spell "bones."

I'll often enter this two or three times into the grocery list when it's my wife's turn to shop. And as the product owner for that weeks' shopping, she will promptly ignore her team's request to buy BONEZ.

Very practically speaking, what I recommend product owners do is have a location in the product backlog tool into which team members can add new stories. The product owner then periodically reviews new items in this section, and handles them appropriately.

Some are moved to areas in the tool where they'll be worked on. Others (like "BONEZ") might be deleted as low priority.

In general, a product would suffer if all ideas had to originate with the product owner. New ideas should be valued regardless of the source. The product owner prioritizes what the team works on, but that does not mean that all ideas have to originate in the product owner's head.