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Your Backlog is Out of Control? What Now?

Do you feel like you can never keep up with your backlog? You want to maintain a list of high-priority items, but there’s always too much work and too few people? Technical debt stacks up and it seems like there’s no way to catch up? As a team lead, CTO, or a CEO, this kind of problem is normal.

But, no matter how bad your backlog is, you can take steps to change that.

Why Backlogs Get out of Control

Backlogs should be a mix of must-haves, wishlist, and nice-to-have features. You’ll also add in maintenance and technical debt. Prioritizing this backlog is based on the team capacity you have. More importantly, it’s based on the workload you have.

As you scale, developers and scrum masters only have time for must-haves and maintenance rather than backlog and (new) user stories. Most importantly, as the company grows, you create hundreds of new feature requests. These might be feature or fix requests – all of which must be prioritized.

Without scaling your team, you have no way to keep up. You have to look at which tasks add the most value. Pushing some backlog items further and further back.

The result? Over time, your backlog can comprise hundreds of open product backlog items, some of which might even be partially developed. Getting that under control might seem impossible.

Solving Your Backlog Overload

Resolving backlog problems should always start with a strategic analysis and a strategic product roadmap, aligned with business goals. An external strategy consultant can help to put backlog items into perspective.

In most cases, you might also want to divide backlog into three categories:

Old and Irrelevant

Items you cannot, will not, or otherwise do not need. These include items which no longer fit into the current business model. Some organizations choose to delete these. However, it is wise to maintain them in a separate log.  A good tip here would be to set up a periodic review for these types of items moving forward.

Crucial Maintenance

Maintenance items are normally added to the backlog from tickets, when sprints are too full to take on new work. They add up when they are overlooked in the next sprint, or when your team doesn’t have capacity in that sprint either. Whenever you can, you should clear this type of backlog first. After all, maintenance is a high priority and directly impacts user experience. However, if your teams are just performing maintenance, this can lead to other tasks taking the backseat.

Product/Feature Development

Wish list features, modules, and products in the backlog are also important. Prioritizing how to achieve them with your current team is important. If you don’t have capacity, or the new feature is large, you might want to look at expanding your team or create a micro team. This enables the team to take on full ownership of a new product.

Eventually, any backlog should be contained, achievable, and manageable. If you have several hundred PBIs, you’re never going to make headway without help. A clean backlog is not an unattainable myth. External strategy or support for your team can provide the extra insight and work hours you need to untangle your backlog, no matter how many PBIs.

Need some help getting your backlog under control? Contact the Gapstars team today! We offer strategic insights, advice, and help you meet capacity needs.