What do I do if my backlog starts getting out of control?

One of the most important tasks (but least popular!) for product managers is organizing the product backlog.

When you have ideas coming in from everywhere, it gets harder to push the best ones to the top. If you fall behind on maintenance, it can (and will) spiral out of control.

*sigh*

It’s our least favorite tasks that generally require the most discipline. Here’s a somewhat therapeutic method that we’ve actually found to be really helpful:

Step 1: Pick a date

Pick a regular time to prune your backlog. We do it once a month – so pick a date and time of day (we recommend a full morning or afternoon) that’s the least likely to get pushed around by other *urgent* needs.

Step 2: Cull it all

This is your turbo-charged attack on your backlog. You’re aiming for a quick, but thorough scan of all ideas to remove or merge irrelevant and duplicate entries. We recommend doing this to an inspirational, powerful playlist.

Step 3: Find the holes

Identify the ideas that are held in stasis because they are missing information. As this is a monthly activity, pay close attention to those ideas you know you haven’t touched during the past month. This might be business case, user case or even a simple detailing of what problem the feature should address.

Step 4: Write up a to-do list

Once you’ve identified everything that needs attention, don’t just leave it there. From the ideas you’ve selected create follow-up tasks and add them to whatever to-do list you already manage. Make these specific and realistic so that you don’t find yourself picking out and noting down the same unfinished backlog chores next month too.

Step 5: Smugly celebrate

As well as actually cracking on with that to do list – we recommend making you REWARD YOURSELF. That was long an arduous thing you just did. When backlog day comes around, make sure you’ve got a treat stocked in the office that you can congratulate yourself with when you finish. Candy. Ice cream sandwich. Whiskey. Whatever floats your boat.

 

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