In Agile or Kanban, the backlog comprises an ordered list of requirements that a team maintains for a product or project. It consists of features, stories, bug fixes, non-functional requirements, technical debt, business as usual requests —whatever must be done to successfully deliver a viable product.
The dictionary defines the backlog as ‘an accumulation of uncompleted work or matters needing to be dealt with’ which can be damaging. Replacing the term backlog with Demand is a better description but for the purposes of this glossary definition we will continue to use the word backlog.
Backlogs are best visualised on a physical card wall – aka scrum board, Kanban board, or Agile task board. If you have hundreds of items in your backlog then don’t try to visualise all of them on the wall. Simply select the top 5 or top 10 items from each category and just write cards out for them. Stick them on the wall grouped into rows with each row representing a demand type, i.e. planned work, unplanned work, defects, technical debt, etc.
Housekeeping of the backlog is a critical ongoing activity. All teams are different but generally speaking the typical roles that keep the backlog clean are Scrum Master, Product Owner, Product Manager, Technical Lead, and Business Analyst. It’s very easy for your Agile ALM tool to become a dumping ground for requirements and quickly become difficult to manage or make sense of.
When adding items to the backlog, think carefully about the level of detail required to successfully describe the work item. A simple, brief title written on a card may suffice initially. If you put too much detail into a work item too early in the process then it may become waste. Too much or too little, too early or too late – the goldilocks effect.