The Healthy Happy Backlog

The Healthy Happy Backlog

Backlogs are at the heart of your Product Delivery Strategy. Simply put, they are a story of what happens next.

Whether they be bugs, epics, features, or user stories – they are a collection of the ideas, suggestions, concepts, and future of the product you one day will build. When left disorganized, they are a mountain of “stuff” that will continue to grow until one day you look at the pile and go “probably better to delete it and start over”.

This is what we don’t want to ever happen, we don’t want to lose those great ideas that have the potential to make your product great. Therefore, the goal becomes to create a Healthy and Happy Backlog.

The Components of a Healthy Backlog

  • When adding items into the backlog, organizing them as they go in, perhaps creating parent epics to better manage them so you have some semblance of grouping.
  • Items added to the backlog should have an explanation as why they have been added and why you are keeping them.
  • If you use priority or some other describing characteristic, update them and complete the story.
  • If members of your team were involved in the item being pushed to the backlog, tag them.
  • If you are thinking about them for future releases, tag them to the release, but leave them in the backlog.

The goal of a healthy backlog is to be able to easily retrieve information when it is most pertinent for you to have and apply when you need it most. Not for you to spend days and days sifting through the stuff that no one knows about anymore (or the product has changed so much that the work item in question is now obsolete).

In building a happy backlog, it’s a good exercise to pick a moment in time that you can prune items in the list, review what is there before you add more to it. Using your release date as a milestone is a great way to remind yourself to spend a few hours adding in what wasn’t delivered in the previous release, deciding if it will be released at all, and then adding it to the backlog. It could be now that you finished what you did, there is no need to do extra work.

Don’t Be Afraid to Delete

The last piece on generating a happy and healthy backlog is an action that many are afraid to take on an ongoing basis – deletion.

There are all types of arguments against deletion of items in your backlog – “we will lose ideas”, “what if we need it”, “someone might remember something” – to all these arguments I ask – are we hoarding our backlog or building a healthy one. Keep things for a while, a few months, a year but after that, anything over a year old, should be deleted, otherwise, it’s taking up mind space and distracting you from what you want to achieve – delivery of a great product.

Remember, the healthier and more useful the backlog, the easier your job, if you’re spending too much time managing the backlog, you’re not spending enough time on delivery.


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