Large backlogs are useless

Some years ago I was almost going crazy because of the size of the tasks backlog we had. It was not only tasks! We had bugs, ideas, tasks, requirements… Jira was something I did not want to open every morning. I even created some charts to show the amount of tickets being created and solved/closed. We would never catch up at that rate.

Then I had a chat to my CTO back then. He was new to the company and I was basically taking the chance to vent a bit. His answer was something that stuck with me: “Does it matter?”. I was like “man… of course it matters”, and only after some time I could finally understand that even solving that huge mountain of tickets was not going to solve the problens we had as a company.

Let’s say people were too focused on the output of the engineering teams, not really on the outcomes. I mean, it’s easy to measure an output. Team A did the thing B. But what about “We are selling 10% more after we did B”? This is an outcome.

Anyway, I kept this in my mind and every now and then it still bites me.

I was just today checking my team’s backlog. I saw some tasks like:

  • Improve endpoint’s response (Created 10 months ago)
  • Bottom of page A has a broken background (Created 1 year ago)
  • Change the service’s configuration to match the new pattern (Created 2 years ago)

To me this is more of a whishlist, not really a backlog. Or maybe it contains things that are either fixed already, or that do not matter anymore.

But, how to deal with those?

I remember some years ago we decided to simply close all the tickets that had no comments in the past 3 months. Those were considered abandoned. It felt good back then.

Since the backlog I manage nowadays is smaller, I did it manually. I closed the tickets opened months ago that had no comments. I also closed the ones that look like a reminder ou a wish.

“Improve the endpoint’s response” is too vague, even with a nice description. This is the kind of change/improvement one does while working on the endpoint or don’t. Creating a ticket for “later” is just whishful thinking and can actually have the side effect of demotivating people when they look at the huge and out of control backlog.

Keep your backlogs tidy. Keep your team happy.

Evaldo Junior

Web developer, writer, speaker, Free and Open Source Software contributor and sometimes a gamer and a guitar and ukulele player.

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