Agile Testing: Removing Clutter — Removing Defects

Written by Janet Gregory of DragonFire Inc, Agile coach and Quality Process Consultant. Check out her next course, Whole Team Approach to Agile Testing, at Skills Matter over 5–7 November, 2018

I recently found myself with two free days in Copenhagen, no family commitments and no work commitments, so I decided to make a personal commitment. I declared these two days a ‘writing retreat’ for myself. All I was going to do was write because I am way behind on my blog posts and wanted to start on a couple of articles.

The first thing I did on day one of my retreat was go through notes that I had captured and stored in my ‘blog ideas’ folder. I quickly came across an idea about addressing clutter… interesting, since I was now facing the task of removing clutter, and organizing my thoughts to write about.

What’s so bad about clutter?

Clutter impedes my thinking process — in this case, too many ideas that are not organized.

We experience clutter in many different ways:

  • Family priorities: which grandchildren to hug first? That’s an easy one — hug them all
  • Work demands: emails, bug backlogs, task switching, and so many other demands on our time
  • Mental demands: my example are the squirrels running around in my head constantly — I do try forms of meditation to slow them down

I reached for my ‘go to’ tool — mind mapping. I wanted to go outside in the quiet and warmth of this beautiful spring day so I took my notebook and started my mind map so I could carry it with me.

I found myself in Kongen Have (King’s Garden) sitting amongst the daisies, watching people enjoying the day, listening to the sounds of children laughing and enjoying the scent of the tree blossoms. It was a great place to start removing some of my clutter.

Managing Mental Clutter

I find myself constantly reacting to the latest need or ‘must do’ thing. I try to fit those in between all the other stuff I have to do. I used to make lists, which made things worse because they get messy. I’ve learned to use personal Kanban boards — I’ve tried the online versions, but they don’t work for me — so I carry my slickynotes everywhere I go. Because they attach via static cling, I can safely put them on any hotel room surface, and easily move them from place to place.

I find that if I write down what I need to do, and place them in priority order, much of my mental clutter goes away. The squirrels slow down so that I can concentrate on what is important. Instead of clutter, it gains purpose. Clutter prevents us from moving forward.

Interested in learning more about Agile testing? Take Janet’s Whole Team Approach to Agile Testing at Skills Matter on 5–7 November, 2018

Removing Defect Clutter

How easy is it to remove clutter at work, like defect backlogs? In Lisa Crispin’s and my first book, Agile Testing, Antony Marcano tells us a story about defect backlogs being hidden backlogs. That is so very true, but I’ve come to also think of them as clutter … they get in our way every way we turn. For instance — defect triages; whether or not we fix it; how much information to enter into the defect tracking systems … it’s clutter that slows us down.

I’m a fan of zero defect tolerance — that being: zero known story defects escaping the iteration. Instead of discussing a bug and giving it power, why don’t we just fix it? Remove the clutter by clearing it away immediately. Write an automated test for the bug, fix it and then forget about it. When teams have acceptance tests for small stories and have a shared understanding of the story, they know what is a defect and what isn’t. Only when a defect is huge — say, caused by a basic flaw in design logic that will cause an iteration to be jeopardized — should it be taken to the product owner to decide whether to fix it this iteration or the next.

With no defect clutter, you help product quality, lessen technical debt, and allow the team to concentrate on more important tasks.


When I was looking for ideas for my blog posts, I came across some very old To Do lists that were not completed. What happened to those things that I never did? They fell off my radar. Maybe they were never really important and shouldn’t have been on the list in the first place.

I am trying an experiment for myself to remove some of my own workplace clutter — my own hidden backlogs. I have saved my ideas that I thought important enough to make it into my mind map. I will date and prioritize those so I know when I had that idea and how important I thought it is. I decided my work in progress (WIP) limit is 20, so when I reach 20, one will have to drop off the list or I will have to remove one by writing. To manage this backlog, I use an electronic version of my mind map, since I can’t carry my whiteboard with me when I travel.

My challenge to all teams: if you have more than 20 (maybe even 5) outstanding defects…

Can you do something to remove that clutter?
What strategy can you put in place to work towards that end?
Can you remove some just because they’re old and unimportant?
How many does that leave you?
Is it manageable to start reducing them by fixing a few during each iteration, and not letting the backlog grow?

Remember, small chunks…

Originally published at