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There are always new ideas, features, and goals to achieve and never enough time to do them all. Learn to manage your backlog.

Agile Backlog Management in Favro

Over time your backlog will grow. There are always new ideas, features, and goals to achieve and never enough time to do them all. As items are added to the backlog it will eventually become too big, become cluttered and slow down innovation. This is when backlog management becomes a must. Making sure your backlog is well structured, prioritized, estimated and doesn’t grow too large will allow you and your team to focus on what’s most important, delivering the most value in the shortest amount of time.

Add some structure

Most backlogs start out as a flat list. Eventually, the list becomes too long and will benefit from some structure. Favro’s Project tree view allows you to create a hierarchy, which is the perfect way to structure your backlog. There are many ways to do this: by project, team, type of work, areas of ownership, breaking larger things down into smaller things (Agile Epics down to User stories), etc. If it’s a shared backlog, a good rule of thumb is to think about making it easy for team members to find what they’re looking for.

However you choose to structure, start by switching your backlog to Project view (hotkey “Y”) or from the backlog menu, select View -> Project tree. To create your hierarchy use Tab to indent items and Shift-Tab to outdent.

Project tree view for hierarchical structure
Project tree view for hierarchical structure — break big things down to smaller more achievable things

Prioritize what’s most important

Once you’ve organized your backlog in a logical way, the next step is to give everything in it a priority. As with structuring, there are many different ways to prioritize a backlog, but what it all boils down to is determining what’s most important to finish first. Which backlog items will create the most value for the intended customer?

Each item should be prioritized relative to all of the other backlog items. The easiest way to do this is with tags. Although Favro tags can be created on the fly, it’s best to think them through ahead of time and establish some sort of range: very high to very low, 1 to 10, urgent and important to not urgent and not important, etc.

Story point estimates for relative backlog item size
Story point estimates for relative backlog item size

If you’re not comfortable with Story points or even a numeric size, feel free to use a Favro Custom field for your size estimates. It can be anything from elephants to mice or planets to atoms. Custom fields are created directly on the card.

Favro Custom field size estimates
Custom size field — Elephant to Mouse

Don’t let it get too large

With too many things to focus on you end up distracted, possibly starting many things and finishing none of them. To avoid this problem in your backlog, one solution is to use Dunbar’s number. The British Anthropologist Robin Dunbar determined that the human brain can only handle about 150 stable relationships. The same holds true for your backlog. Once the backlog grows beyond 150 items, it’s a good idea to start trimming out the “not as good” (low priority) ideas. This will ensure that you and your team can give the proper attention to the most important ones without having to dig through the clutter.

The simplest way to keep your backlog lean in Favro is to show the backlog Count column. Click the down arrow next to any column and select “Count”. The total number of backlog items will now be shown at the bottom of the column, along with a count for the number of items in every level of the hierarchy. When the total count gets too far above 150, think about what can be deleted, archived or moved to a separate “Icebox” backlog.

favro icebox backlog example
Use the Count column to keep an eye on backlog size — move lower priority cards to the “Icebox”

What to do next?

After you’ve gone through the effort to prioritize and estimate the backlog, while also keeping it lean, determining what to do next is simple. You can either filter (hotkey — “F”) the backlog directly for your highest priority, smallest sized items — the proverbial low hanging fruit. Or get a little more elaborate and build a report via Advanced search. A report will allow you to sort your backlog on the fly by any column you choose. When you have the capacity to take on the next great thing from your backlog, drag and drop it onto a flow board and make it happen.

backlog filter showing highest priority and smallest size cards
1) Use a backlog filter showing highest priority and smallest size cards
Sortable backlog priority and size report
2) Or create a sortable backlog priority and size report
flow board
3) Drag and drop the next great thing onto a flow board to make it happen

Keep it tidy

Whether individuals or teams, we all have ideas we want to implement and goals we want to achieve. The backlog is the perfect place to store all of these valuable initiatives. By taking the next steps of structuring, prioritizing, sizing and continuing to keep up with backlog refinements, you’ll ensure that the best ideas, the essential features, or the most important goals are brought to fruition.

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