Clean your backlog

10.11.2021 - Dimiter Petrov

Have you recently checked the size of your backlog?

There is a limit to the amount of work a team can do at a given time, so new tasks get queued in a backlog. As a project grows, so does its backlog. There are new features to develop, more bugs to fix, but these tasks take longer to finish than to write down.

The problem with large backlogs

Large backlogs are demoralizing. It is intimidating to realize how much is left to do.

Large backlogs are overwhelming. People lose the overview. They create a second, smaller, “prioritized” backlog. Or they start tracking work through other channels: in-person meetings, email, text chat. That exacerbates the problem - now you have multiple backlogs and they all keep growing.

Large backlogs stagnate. The bigger the backlog, the more information is outdated and the more maintenance is required.

Large backlogs give a false sense of how much is really planned, because most items are too vague or not estimated yet.

Keep your backlog small(er)

Reducing the backlog size can reduce the team’s stress level. It also allows the team to focus on what’s the most important. Here are some ideas to help you declutter:

  • Acknowledge your backlog is too big. They all are. Discuss that with your team and agree on what you want to do about it.
  • Review the backlog as your priorities change. What you thought was important 4 months ago may not be as important now. Outright remove what has become irrelevant and reorder the rest to align with the new requirements.
  • Drop items from the end of the backlog. A little controversial, but if you keep the list in order of priority some items will always remain at the bottom. Why keep them at all if you never get around to them?
  • Don’t plan too far ahead. Only bring the imminent and most concrete parts of the vision to the backlog. Consider keeping ideas which are not fully formed somewhere else.
  • Start fresh. This is a heavy-handed option. Archive the entire backlog. Create a new one from scratch. The important things will resurface.
  • Keep at it. Even with the strategies above you will slip occasionally. Set a calender reminder to reassess every few months.