What Shape Is Your Backlog?

I led a session earlier today at Agile Open Northwest exploring the different shapes backlogs take. I am pretty familier with a couple, but I’ve been hearing about new ones, and wondered what other ones might be out there.

We found quite a few.

  • Lists (ala XP as well as Scrum)
  • Story Maps
  • Using Kanban to Limit Your Backlog
  • Chris Simms’ Urgent / Important Grid Backlog – stories are placed according to their importance / urgency, then promoted into “doing” on an intuitive basis by the person doing the work
  • A nuevo XPish type – where only the current month is considered, each month has a theme at the top, and 4 iterations of stories that support that theme underneath
  • Arlo Belshee’s Arloban (my name) – continuous flow w/ a small (3ish) limit and 3 vision cards on the left to remind people why they’re doing it
  • Jim Benson’s Graduated Limited Backlog – where you consider a small number of very important items, a larger number of medium important items, and a larger number of low importance items. This is similar to the Grid backlog and good for Personal Kanban at least.
  • A more progressive scrum backlog, where you only consider themes for things that are far off, then break them into epics as they come closer, and finally into stories when you are about to do them.
  • Visioned MMFs – limiting the backlog to a small number of MMFs, but pairing them with the vision they support
  • No backlog – generating only enough stories for the next sprint a few days before hand
    and using vision cards with it)
  • Mindmapping – many of the benefits of storymapping, but supports arbitrary levels as well. They build out branches only as they need them.

We were reminded that the value / effort curve for analysis looks like this, so we should try to spend less time on it up front. However, a little time has a big bang for the buck. And sometimes, more time is necessary, even though there are diminishing returns.

We also spent a bit more time talking about Story Mapping, and about how the huge win there is not the map, but the process of creating the map and getting everyone on the same page.

It was fun, and I was happily surprised to see so much diversity out there!

Apologies for the lack of polish, but I thought it better to get it up here roughly than not at all.

One Response to “What Shape Is Your Backlog?”

  1. Alex Chaffee Says:

    Great survey! One of the big deficits in XP theory has been backlog management. Every team and tool (including Tracker) has failed to give a polished story around how to make sense of the medium-term and long-term future.

    One thing I’ve tried is what I call the “Priority Pyramid” — put your cards in rows, where the first row has one card, the second row two cards, etc., up to a reasonable limit like 8 or 10, after which point you enter what’s basically Tracker’s “Icebox”. Sounds similar to “graduated limited backlog”. But even that doesn’t allow you to group by topic or theme.

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