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Dealing with enormous backlog

Do you feel anxiety when looking at your Product backlog with those 1014 tickets? What if I told you there is another way? Here are 8 ways to keep your backlog clean and actionable.

Typical Product Backlog

Differentiate between a backlog item and an idea

It's ok to have a notebook, Figma, mural, whatever, where you collect all ideas and requests. However, the backlog should only contain items you aim to work on FOR REAL within the next 1-3 quarters.

Set a hard limit of tickets

In my experience, only the top 20-30 tickets will actually have any chance to ever be closed as completed. There are too many new directions, opportunities, and urgent tasks coming in overriding the priority of tasks further in the backlog. Just close the items that will never happen or at least move them to your ideas space.

Don't make it a BUGlog

Bugs are tasks like all others. They need value and effort estimation and have to be prioritized against any other product opportunity. If they don't make the cut, they don't make the cut, sorry. No point collecting bugs - they are not Pokemon!

Keep the tickets high quality

However, if there is something in your backlog, let it shine! Make sure to include the user story, impact hypothesis, requirements, and links to design and tracking specifications. The tickets should be able to speak for you when you are not around.

Try to have 3 months' worth of refined items ready to go

It might be hard (try daily refinements!) to achieve and it's worth it! With items ready for the next 3 months for the team can pick up, you will have so much time to do proper long time planning and assessment. It's worth the initial effort!

Introduce visual cues

It's much easier to look at the backlog if you can easily tell apart a new feature task, improvement initiatives, bugs, and research. If you add other color cues to represent item status, you will be able to tell everything at a glance.

Add key stakeholders to their tickets of interest

A personal update email may work. Automated status updates work too and keep relevant people in the loop with no time investment on your end!

Create a task document associated with a backlog item

This is basically an extended version of the ticket, where you can collect all the pre-development research and post-development results and observations. Collecting this info in one place saves you hours when it comes to writing progress updates and presentations. At the same time, your tickets remain clean and hold only the relevant information.

There you go! Here are my 8 ways to keep the backlog neat and functional. Will those work for your backlog and if not, why? Or perhaps you can contribute more pieces of advice? Sound off in the comments!

P.S. Having a clean backlog is one thing. Having great tasks to put there is another challenge every Product Manager faces. To be well equipped to face that challenge, check out my courses at drtbartpm. com :)