Tips For a Healthy Backlog in 2018

It’s 2018, many of us have new year’s resolutions to start being healthier. Maybe we should start with our backlogs

Lauren St.Jean
Jan 12, 2018 · 4 min read

Backlogs are hard

There are two common problems I see the most often for backlogs. The first is that backlogs are too large. The team has work that hangs around for years that they are never going to get to. Another issue with too much work on the backlog is wasted time. The team has spent so much time reviewing work for development that they are never going to get to.

Two main issues:

  1. Backlogs are too big
  2. Backlogs are too sparse

What does a healthy backlog look like?

  • A healthy backlog (for a team of 5–9) has less than 100 items
  • The items are less than 9 month old
  • There are 1–2 months of work ready to go for the team to work on
  • Includes tech debt, bugs, and new feature work

Close out old tickets

If tickets are 6 months or older you are probably not going to get to them. Set a reminder to delete everything that is 9 months old, or even a year old. If it’s important, it will come back around again. I recommend this for bugs as well if you’ve only had one issue reported in 6–9 months and you haven’t resolved it. If it’s important it will come around again and it can be linked the old closed ticket and the team can address it in a appropriate manner if they decide to.

Organize in a way that works for you

Epics or Themes — You can use epics to group related tickets depending on the software you are using. Do not use an epic as a label, it is a larger feature that should close at some point.

Put Check Points In Place

  • If you aren’t reserving time on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to review the backlog start putting in a half hour here or there, or even an hour to review the backlog with your team.
  • Once it starts to get over 100 set up some time to review the backlog starting with the oldest first and close out appropriate tickets that the team doesn’t think they’ll ever actually tackle.

Tech Debt

  • Don’t forget about tech debt. Tech debt should be prioritized like any other work. If tech debt makes up 50% or more of your ready for development backlog, and you are not a tech focused or maintenance team, you should work with your PM on upcoming product goals to work on beefing up your business value delivered.

A Spoonful of Reality

It sounds easy enough to do all of this, but what if your team has a unique situation that causes managing the backlog to be quite difficult? All hope is not lost, however it might take a little more work.

  • There’s not a product owner
  • Too many product owners Engineering and Product Design

From the hackers, inventors & creators who help small businesses succeed

Thanks to David Kaplan.

Lauren St.Jean

Written by

Agile Coach: Disturber of the status quo and facilitator of continuous improvement Engineering and Product Design

From the hackers, inventors & creators who help small businesses succeed