Steps to rein in your oversized Product Backlog

Oversized product backlog

We discussed the Product Backlog in an earlier post. One of the challenges Scrum Masters / Project Managers may face is an oversized backlog that makes it difficult to groom and identify key items to take into your upcoming sprint(s). Cleaning up an oversized product backlog is an essential part of agile and product management to maintain focus and prioritize work effectively. An oversized backlog can lead to confusion, missed opportunities, and inefficiency.

So when would you say you have a very large backlog? As per Scrum Alliance,

  • The backlog has grown to hundreds of items (the exact “unmanageable” quantity varies by scrum team and product).
  • You don’t want to show anyone the list because it’s so unruly.
  • You can never seem to find the item you’re looking for.
  • The development team feels that they can never make impactful progress on the backlog.
  • The length has caused you to lose track of what is a high priority.
  • It’s impossible to tell which items have been refined and prioritized, and which are brainstorming ideas.
  • The list looks random and chaotic instead of ordered and well-organized.
  • It’s nearly impossible to find enough time to prioritize the backlog because of the number of items.

How do we ensure we rein in an oversized product backlog?

Every item in your backlog requires a certain level of scrutiny. Review them, discuss with the team, and then make the decision regarding its relevance and necessity as per the current product roadmap.

Involve stakeholders, product owners, and team members in backlog grooming sessions to discuss and validate the backlog items. This ensures alignment and shared understanding.

So what options are there after we have reviewed them?

  1. Delete: Yes, you heard that right! If you are sure that items in the backlog will NEVER get done as per the current scope/roadmap, it is best to close or delete such items. For our projects, we took a conscious decision never to delete tickets. Hence, we just add a comment and CLOSE them.
  2. Close: We have noticed in our projects, that some of the very old tickets in the backlog got addressed as part of other tickets. For such issues, it is best to review an CLOSE them. These are nothing but tickets that have “decayed” with time, and such requirements may not be relevant anymore.
  3. Cleanup: If there is a possibility to do a sprint focusing on cleaning up the backlog, it would be good to prioritise and group related tickets and knock them off in such cleanup sprints. For instance, if there are a lot of backlog tickets specific to string localisation, just club them and take it together. Similarly, if there are a lot of tickets, specific to a set of UI screens, maybe, take them up together. Grouping them together can help expedite the fixes and reviews for them.
  4. Prioritise: With every sprint, while we are focusing on feature addition, we should also identify key technical debt items from the product backlog and resolve them. Use techniques like MoSCoW (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have) or a numerical scoring system to determine the importance of each item. Focus on what’s most valuable to your customers and the business.

Cleaning up an oversized backlog is an ongoing process that requires collaboration, discipline, and a focus on delivering value.

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About the Author: Anuj Seth

Anuj is a certified PMP with over 20 years of Software Development and Management experience. He founded PM Tips in 2020. Contributors are welcome. Drop him a note via the Contact page.

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