Empty your backlog, delete issues

I’ve discussed a lot about how to fill-up a backlog.

But there’s an other activity, which is even more crucial: emptying it. And I’m not even talking about releasing new features. I’m talking about plainly closing/deleting issues and stories.

A backlog is like a garden. At some point, if you don’t spend enough time maintaining it, weed will grow. And your Japanese garden will turn into a wasteland.

People in your product team, sales team, development team, keep on having “the next great idea”. And you or they create issues that will stack up. Until the moment that you can’t prioritize anything anymore, and that you have a feeling that despite the huge amount of things that need some attention, there’s actually not much which is valuable.

Time for a spring clean-up!

Taking the assumption that you have organized your Backlog with Epics, Stories and Tasks:

  1. Start cleaning up your Epics
    1. Is there any story in?
    2. Does that Epic actually meet the current or up-coming business goals?
  2. Browse through your backlog and search for stories/tasks that aren’t related to any Epic.
    1. Do you even understand what it’s about?
    2. Can it be added to an existing Epic (upon previously mentioned conditions)?
    3. Can it be grouped with other stories/tasks into an Epic (still meeting the same conditions)?
    4. Did it show any activity in the last 3 months?
  3. Browse through stories/tasks that are in Epics
    1. Haven’t you solved it already, maybe in a different way?
    2. Is it not obsolete?
    3. Does it actually add any value to the Epic?

Each time, simply consider closing or even deleting the issue.

Communicating on the clean-up

What I proposed may seem very extreme, and you’ll always be thinking twice before clicking on the “delete” button. So you might want to communicate to your teams about what you’re about to do.

But you might also not want to. You’d be surprised to see how those issues won’t be missed, as most of them have been long forgotten by the people who opened it. And therefore, to me, not telling a person his issue has been closed, if he didn’t take care about it in a while, is the best test to decide if it’s still relevant. Things which were deemed urgent and important, will then be seen as unimportant and unnecessary.

I’ve had experiences of shrinking Backlogs of up to 70%, where almost none of the issues I closed got re-opened. And that is, even if I received some e-mails from the team who was surprised by this clean-up. In the end they all understood and agreed on the benefits.

Featured image by Daderot

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