The Power of the Backlog

The power of the backlog is incredible in a Scrum world.  If stories are the promise of a future conversation, then the mighty backlog can certainly start, end, or even influence a conversation.

The backlog can start a conversation … “Do you have it on your backlog?”

The backlog is a conversation starter when something new is identified as being a valuable enhancement to a given product.  Of course, value is generally subjective, but in this case, value is in the eye of the Product Owner with input from all the various stakeholders.  Maybe this sort of conversation is started from an executive, a stakeholder, the team, or even the true end user themselves.  Regardless, the backlog is that Scrum-sacred home where cool, hopefully valuable things go to wait until their story is planned into a sprint (and become part of the sprint backlog).  Even if the story never gets planned into a sprint, there is some satisfaction to the person that came up with the idea that it has been considered and is “on the backlog”.   As a ScrumMaster, I know that I feel satisfied when the Product Owner says, “Yep, I’ve got that on the  backlog already”.  If the idea is truly proven to be the next most valuable thing to work on, it should be planned into an upcoming sprint.  If not, it had it’s time on the backlog and maybe it falls off or is killed someday.  Call me sadistic, but I actually enjoy the killing of the occasional low-value backlog item.

The backlog can end a conversation just the same … “That’s not on our sprint backlog. Let’s backlog it for now.”

The backlog is a conversation end-er when something is brought up that isn’t on the current sprint backlog.  It’s amazing how much of an impediment (possible) future work can become if allowed to run wild.  In the old days of traditional waterfall project management, this was called scope creep and typically handled like a change request under whatever change management policy may have existed.  In most cases, meetings were called, the change was assessed, guess-timates were given, and friends or enemies were made as some change committee yeah-ed or nah-ed it.  All of that took time, time away from the team working on the approved scope of the project; more time in some cases than others depending on the degree of the change and the corporate bureaucracy in place.    Under Scrum, the power of the backlog makes clear what is in the current sprint backlog and what should be “backlogged” for a future sprint.  This means the team remains focused on the current sprint.

The backlog influences conversation … “We might want to add another developer to the team. I’ve got a 2 year backlog built up!”

The backlog influences conversations day in and day out throughout the life of the product.  One might even say, the backlog speaks.  The backlog says …

  • How much technical debt still exists for a product (especially if you religiously capture bugs and such in the backlog).
  • How much value remains to be implemented for the product.
  • Whether continued investment in a product or Scrum will continue for 1,2, 3 or however many months/years.
  • All that the team accomplished and the value delivered in past sprints.
  • And, so much more!

So, next time you overhear things like “it’s on the backlog”, “backlog it”, or “it’s not on our sprint backlog”, just remember that it’s all in the power of the backlog.

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About Stephanie Stewart

Stephanie Stewart is Director of Agile Leadership at Valpak. As Director of Agile Leadership, she is responsible for portfolio governance, program management, funnel management, project management, and of course, oversight of related people, processes and tools. Stephanie leads the team of Agile Project Leaders that handle everything from project management to ScrumMaster-ing to leading Kanban teams. She’s a career project manager with over 16 years in the field, including past positions with AT&T Business and IBM Global Services, and has maintained the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification since early in her career. A self-admitted Agile enthusiast, Stephanie has worked passionately to encourage and support the IT organization at Valpak in fully embracing Agile software development, to move Valpak towards a greater vision of “The Agile Enterprise”. Most recently, she is one of the first few hundred people in the United States to have earned the PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) credential. Her academic credentials include a BS in Marketing and an MBA in International Business. View all posts by Stephanie Stewart

One response to “The Power of the Backlog

  • Liza

    Great post! I, too, love the power of the backlog! I am also one of the editors for the PMI-Agile Community of Practice and would love to republish this article on the community blog. If you’re interested, you can contact me through my blog (just click on my Gravatar photo) and use my contact form to reply.

    Liza.

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