Prune Your Backlog

When did you last prune your backlog?

When you started the project, the team sat together for a planning poker session to provide the initial definition of the project. Now it’s six months later – or six weeks or even days later. You’ve been paying attention to the stories in your current iteration. Have you thought at all about the items in your backlog?

It’s an easy trap to fall into: the pressure and momentum of a weekly delivery can lead to a myopic focus on only the immediate tasks. Losing sight of the big picture is an unnecessary handicap.

Your initial backlog and estimates were made at the point of maximum ignorance. Your first backlog and estimates will help you make feature decisions, set your budget and defined epic stories – all of which helps set direction. However, after a few iterations, you know much more than when you began. If you haven’t reevaluated your backlog, you’re not making the most of what you’ve learned.

Your backlog drives so much of your project (such as your burn charts) that you definitely want the most up to date information possible.

I recommend reviewing every story in your backlog on at least a monthly basis – but preferably do it weekly. I’ve found that I usually find a few points that I can count as done, because they were completed as a part of another story already done. Frequently there are points that I just don’t need to do – features we decided we don’t need to waste time and money on. I can reevaluate estimates to make sure they reflect the latest information.

The information that an accurate backlog provides is invaluable. You’ve almost certainly had a customer ask you when the product will be ready to ship, or what it will cost. If you have a clean, well curated backlog with the best estimates you have, you’ll be able to give your customer a good answer.