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Partition Your Backlog for Maximum Mileage

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Backlogs have been under constant criticism for quite some time now. Mary Poppendieck suggested that the product backlog should be eliminated if it is not satisfying the desired purpose. Similarly, Jeff Patton suggested that flat backlogs fail to convey high level view of the system. He suggested using a story map instead. Further, in order to give more meaning to the backlog, Serge Beaumont suggested an interesting way of partitioning the backlog such that it maps to a flow and makes the backlog worthy for existence.

According to Serge, the flow to ready involves work from the product owner to pick up NEW stories, get them to a READY state, so that the team can start work on them and process them to the DONE state.

Flow to READY

Serge suggested partitioning the backlog into the following 4 areas to keep the flow consistent.

  1. items that are currently in the Sprint,
  2. items that are Ready,
  3. items that you're preparing to Ready, and
  4. the rest: new stuff.

New" and "Ready" are prioritized buffers, "Preparing" and "In Sprint" are Work-In-Progress.

Partition Backlog

  • Prioritized buffer: New - The product owner has not started work on these items. This is an excellent location to practice triage and get rid of those items which seem to be adding little value. This list needs to be prioritized on the basis of business experience, valuation of benefit, business urgency etc. 
  • Work-In-Progress: Preparing - This is the core list where the PO spends a lot of time trying to get an item to the READY state. According to Serge, this is the place where PO needs to pull in stuff based on his capacity. This partition would also reflect on the velocity of the product owner. The PO needs to ask questions and solicit answers on each backlog item to further refine it and get it to the READY state. 
  • Prioritized buffer: Ready - The READY buffer needs to have a prioritized list of 1.5 – 2 iterations worth of work so that the team can pick up additional items for an iteration if they are finished early. Serge mentioned that having more than 2 iterations worth of items in the ready buffer would constitute waste. 
  • Work-In-Progress: In Sprint - These are the backlog items which are being implemented in the current sprint. 

Thus the breaking the backlog into 4 areas aligns it well with the flow to get an item from NEW to READY to DONE state. This would also help in reducing the inventory buildup at any partition and each partition would be able to pull items based on the capacity of the team and the product owner.

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