How detailed is your backlog?

It is a common mistake to want and have all tickets in the backlog detailed and ready for the team to pick up.

The fallacy is that if we have everything refined and ready to work, then we can do long term estimation. I say fallacy because it is impossible to predict the future. The whole point of having agility is being able to respond to change because we know, the future is impossible to predict.

So, is there a level of detail that is ideal for the backlog?

If we look into the scrum guide for guidance, the suggestion is simple. Items that are higher in the backlog should be more clear and detail, and, as you travel down they should be less detailed.

Why is this important?

The team should be around 10% of their time refining the backlog. If the work they refine is lower in priority, there is a high chance that it will never be picked up – check out yesterday’s post on “How old is your backlog?” – and that’s just wasting the team’s time.

With our teams, we try to aim for at least 2 sprints of refined work. One full next sprint using “yesterday’s weather” for availability, and at least the first week of the other sprint. This gives us at least 1 month of buffer – we work in 2-week sprints – so we don’t have to have any extreme disturbances.

This, unfortunately, is not a one size fits all, but then again, neither is any agile framework. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be agile. You will have to try it out with your teams and see what works for them and your product owner.



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