Delete your backlog

May 20, 2020

Too often, Scrum turns into a rigid schedule of meetings and processes that few people enjoy. Stakeholders tell us what they want, and we tell them how long that takes to build. Team members have little say over what they work on. What promises efficiency takes a lot of autonomy out of our job.

There is always more work than we have time for. One painful artifact of many processes is the backlog, which is where we keep all the “maybe laters”. Everything we cannot do at the moment ends up in the backlog, which we promise to tackle once we have more time. Because that time never comes, the backlog keeps growing forever. Looking at all this work that is not getting done feels demotivating. To outside observers, it looks like we are not moving forward at all.

Teams are supposed to care about the work they do. I have never worked in a team that was excited about finally working on the backlog. Planning for and prioritizing work that we don’t care about is dull and pointless.

“We’ll put it in the backlog” is code for “we don’t want to do it, but we don’t want to say ‘no’ to you”. We keep making false commitments to stakeholders if we know we’ll never work on what they suggested.

We cannot possibly work on all ideas, yet we still keep them around to haunt us forever. Instead of filling the backlog until it bursts, we need to start saying “no” more. Every task has to earn its place in our backlog. Make it a list of things your team cares about instead of abusing it as a dumping ground for wild ideas.

– Dom

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