Task lists and the product backlog in particular have a tendency to become monstrosities that spread fear in the hearts of team members. A single task can dwell in the mind, its shadow growing all the way to Mordor, paralyzing otherwise efficient team members.
Here’s how not to.
Just the right size task
Possibly the biggest challenge in setting up an agile backlog is crystallizing the exact size should be. Not too big, so that tasks don’t get stuck in the “to-do” list for ages, making the assigned team member look unproductive. But not too small, either, because an overload of tiny tasks would throw the team off focus and task management would become a task all on its own.
We find that being minded to this issue helps a great deal with managing it. Eventually team members learn to model tasks that are exactly the right size, where everyone’s content and no noticeable lags take place.
Backlog in context
The team needs to remember what all these tasks mean and where they’re leading. In short – make sure the vision is as visible as the footwork. Start by connecting your backlog to your project roadmap so that every task can be viewed in the context of the ultimate goal.
Have a backlog owner
It’s not all fun, but someone has to do it. The backlog owner’s job is to monitor the backlog and lags in particular. Own the product backlog board, and reach out to team members who may be stuck in some eternal loop with no way out. Sometimes an outsider’s perspective is all it takes to unclog a bottleneck.
The “Stuck” column is your friend
“To-do”, “In Progress” and “Done” – go without saying. Do yourself a favor and add a “Stuck” column. It will legitimize the state of being stuck for team members, help them announce their problems and afford you the opportunity to reach out to them for help.
Agile backlogging? So keep it agile
As mentioned previously, tasks stuck in the “To-Do” column forever can be off-putting and discouraging. Launch full creativity mode when helping a team member unclog. Maybe this entire task isn’t worth the effort? Smart prioritization will can help you sift the chaff and move forward more efficiently.
Just. Say. No.
Not every brain-bleep that comes up needs to go into the product backlog. There are numerous ways to filter out mediocre/bad ideas. Find one that works and stick to it. An inflated backlog is a recipe for disaster – team members will abandon it in favor of personal task management, essentially rendering the backlog irrelevant and sprints will be a catastrophe. Gatekeeping the backlog to ensure only the super-relevant stuff gets in there is essential to a healthy backlogging culture.