Is your backlog like a tree?

By | April 20, 2015

“What makes trees special? They live long and grow large by being mostly dead. Only about 2% of tree cells are alive” ~ @biotweeps

When I saw this, I immediately thought of Product Backlogs. I have heard a number of people admonish an audience with statements such as “50% of most backlogs will never be worked on”. Shame on us!

Dead-Tree-tweet-cropped

 

But this isn’t something to cause scorn. It’s fine to generate ideas and not implement them. In fact, isn’t this why we use the approaches that we do? Aren’t we encouraged to welcome change. At the start of most projects, people think they know where they are going or at least want to go. If you’re lucky, you get to run experiments through prototyping and gain invaluable user feedback through regularly delivering working software.

At each step through this process, we are fortunate to be able to redefine our direction which often means altering our focus. It doesn’t mean the ideas we had before are useless, it just means that we believe that we will gain more value from doing something else first. Will we ever get around to doing the items in our backlog? Maybe. Maybe not. Do we gain clarity by clearing out our backlog every-so-often? Quite probably. Should we feel ashamed that we only ever work on 50% of our backlog? No.

A tree grows from a tiny sapling. When you look at a cross-section of a tree, the sapling is at the heart of what is now labelled ‘dead heartwood’. But without that sapling, the tree would not exist.

Our amazing final product is similar: we need those original backlog items to get us where we end up. They may be dead now, but they were important in the early stages.

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