Clean Backlog Policy

Not that long ago I used to work in a company that had a “clean desk policy”.
In essence, everyone should leave their desks clean and tight during work and before going home.

I loved that policy and still use it today. I really like a tight and clean work environment. Don’t know why but if things look good, the work seems to flow much better. It could be me, but I feel more productive if my desk is organized.

The cleaning crew loved it as well. Much easier to clean desks if they are not filled with junk.

Anyway, this got me thinking, why don’t we also have a clean backlog policy?

All items have priority

If we create a new item in our backlog and cannot assign a priority, it’s because it is low in priority. Simple, right? Otherwise, it would be very easy to identify its priority. So why do we leave items without priority?

This one is super easy to fix. We can just take advantage of our ticketing system of choice and set a default there.

Priorities are important. The team should have an idea of what their top priorities are in their backlog without having to ask the P.O. That is the whole point of the backlog. If you want the team to self-organize, they need to understand what is there and how important it is to pick it up.

The best communication is no communication – everything is visible and easy to understand

No lingering items

On Monday I asked you the question, how old is your backlog? One quick way to check is that your backlog is as old as the oldest item there.

If an item is there for more than six months, well, that’s like that old chocolate wrapper on top of your desk that you don’t seem to throw away. Sometimes it goes from the top of your desk to your drawers, then the top of the desk again. You want to throw it away, you know it serves no purpose being there, but somehow, it still lingers.

Why do we do this? Do we feel like these items are pets and we need to keep them around?

Long term items should be in the form of Goals or Vision, not detailed items in the backlog. Just do a proper cleanup once in a while. But most importantly, measure. Keep track of the age of your backlog.

Proper item identification

We save paper on one pile and pens on another, why? It’s efficient to not have to look for a pen in a pile of paper. It sounds so simple, yet when it comes to other things we seem to forget.

Humans are great at pattern recognition. That’s kind of what helped us come this far. From afar we can pickup shapes and colors and with a very degree of certainty identify what it is. What if we can do the same for our backlogs? Wouldn’t it help?

If items are clearly identified, it’s easier for the team to estimate them and assess how much the effort will be.
If everything is an item, then everything kind of blends together into a fuzzy pool of tickets.

A bug should be clearly identified as a bug, the same for tech improvement or a customer item. I could go even further to say that if we are doing investigation work, identify that work as a spike. It creates a common understanding of the purpose of that item.

Hierarchy of items

This one could be controversial.
I believe that the hierarchy of items is extremely important and they should be reflected in the backlog.

Break a vision into goals.
Break a goal into achievable measurable pieces (Epics).
Break epics in stories/tasks/spikes/etc.
Connect them all together.

Each item needs a specific goal and vision. If not, why are we doing it? We should not write code for the sake of writing code. I’ve talked about this in another post, we should always ask, how will this help the customer?
Even bugs have a goal. We are solving this and it will impact that.

If everything is connected it is easier to see how the work evolves as we know more. How new items are added, and old ones that don’t make sense are deleted.

A clean backlog is a focused backlog.



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