Managed Chaos

Tidy Backlogs

I have this obsession to keep my house/desk clean and tidy. That way I am a wee-bit mad in my own way. Today I realized that this madness is indeed helping me sort out things while I work with my teams. Especially when it comes to product backlog management things are quite often messier than we could imagine. Most teams try their best to focus on the importance of Acceptance criteria, User Story format and Story Points (?) during their grooming exercise. Which is appreciable, but the sad part is they miss on the fundamentals like the importance of semantics, clear and concise messages, collective intelligence and many other aspects of clear communication. It might seem like a simple/mundane issue , but it does make a huge difference in the way how we think and operate. Especially in the case of distributed teams this leads to miscommunication and inefficiency. Again we are not looking at any detailed documentation or an elaborate plan of that sort. However, some method-in-the-madness might really help us streamline our thoughts.

Tidy Backlog
Few tips for managing your backlogs,

Have a story to tell
Just by looking at the backlog anyone should be able to visualize the work flow and the related story map for any given product. Meaning, the stories must be arranged in relevant buckets with tags indicating the objective or theme of every user story group. Every product should have only few high level themes and too many themes at this level causes confusion

Everything has a place
Templates are boring and not so cool things to use. However, they do serve a purpose. They ensure that human errors are avoided during any repetitive exercises. They are definitely not a replacement to human intelligence. However, in certain circumstances when the intelligence is questionable, templates may be a good idea. I hate myself for saying this, but missing ‘Acceptance Criteria’ is a crime and we cannot afford that.

Everything should be in it’s place
Well, it’s not just enough to have a placeholder, but it is also logical that we put the right things at the relevant placeholders. A detailed description of the user story at the title section doesn’t make sense.

Adopt the orphans
Avoid having too many orphaned user stories. We all agree that there are special cases, but that cannot be the norm. There has to be solid reason why and how a story is not related to particular theme. Especially if we are looking at maintaining a lean product, this is an absolute must.

Help your PO
Product Owners are also figuring out things along the course of the product like how the teams figure out their implementation details as they progress. This is only natural. Be kind and help your PO by providing suggestions and improvements in the AC’s if required. Do not expect your PO to be your only guiding light. Unleash your creative potential to increase your product’s value.

It is OK to change your backlog items, especially when they are not picked for a particular sprint. Thankfully we are in the digital era and it costs nothing to change/modify the user stories. So do not spend much time creating a perfect backlog, but make sure you create something that is logical.
Most of these items are easily manageable and one could do all these in no-time. A lousy job is not being lean.

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2 thoughts on “Tidy Backlogs

  • Namratha says:

    This was a wonderful read, especially because no one really pays attention to the project logs & the format/template would be one that is obsolete in more aspects than just being an eye sore.

    When an alien sees the log the spreadsheet should be a self explanatory, with appropriate tags or notes.

    An enthusiastic team members suggestions should not be suppressed – and a helpers suggestions should not be shrugged off saying ‘we have been doing it this way, we will stick to it’ — that’s criminal.

    Where we lack behind is in innovation (try new templates) and an unwillingness to evolve into a team that can better than the one 3-4yrs ago.

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