• Chris Davies

Are you doing your backlog all wrong?

A product backlog is ubiquitous in agile teams. A prioritised list of items that is shared by the whole team, dynamic and the single source of work for the team.

But there is one thing many teams do that turns an invaluable tool into just another to-do list.

When we think about a complex project, it is natural to start thinking "how are we going to do that?" or "what do we need to start with?". But that thought process leads to a backlog of items that teams then have problems dealing with.

Have you ever struggled with coming up with the wording for your user stories?

Have you ever thought your product owner is not required?

Do you have difficulty prioritising your work because everything is important?

These are all symptoms of the thought process I am talking about here. The thought process that goes: "what do we need to do?" leads to a backlog full of Tasks. And the problem with a list of tasks is that we can't prioritise them clearly, they are difficult to communicate, and they have no inherent and obvious purpose. They can also lead to a situation where everyone is continually adding more and more items to the backlog much faster than they are completing those items already there.

The key to a healthy and useful backlog is to make sure every item on it expresses a need - a need as expressed by a customer or stakeholder, not from one of the team. Doing this :

  • simplifies your backlog, as there should be fewer items on it,

  • reduces the desire to constantly add new things to do,

  • clarifies why work needs to get done

  • reduces the time spent planning

  • organises the backlog into a series of outcomes that are much easier to prioritise

If you have trouble creating or organising your agile backlog, contact me to discuss how I can help.

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