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How do you handle changing priorities in the backlog?

The Ever-Changing Priorities in the Backlog World

Today’s topic?

A recent question that got me chuckling is, “How do you handle changing priorities in the product backlog?”

Let’s get into this answer about the ever-shifting world of effective backlog management without making things difficult.

I’ll share mostly unfiltered thoughts and elaborate a tad more on the subject, so let’s get into it.

It’s Just a List.

First things first, let’s set the stage. 📌

At its core, what’s a backlog?

Well, I shouldn’t just laugh about it, but… “I think frequently that people make this issue difficult and it doesn’t have to be. Basically, a backlog is a list. Whether it’s an electronic tool, a spreadsheet, or our good old stack of index cards, it’s still a list.

And if the order needs to change?

Simply change the order of the list.

No fuss, no hassle! Why complicate what’s essentially so simple?


Why do we sometimes feel the need to add layers of complexity?

There’s often a temptation to put hefty processes in place, and as I often jest, some folks must really love form-filling. But let’s remember the essence of Agile.

The whole point of a backlog is the details emerge, including the order. As we explore, learn, and adapt, priorities will – and should – shift.

Product Owner’s Domain

I’m a firm believer in this: the product owner plays a pivotal role here. While they “own that order”, it’s essential for them to lead in ensuring things are set right.

Does this mean they’re the only ones who can change the order?

Not necessarily.

But they should certainly be in the driver’s seat, looking at the backlog, refining, and making necessary tweaks “almost every day”.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Always remember to embrace the team’s dynamics.

It’s all about synergy. Collaborate during refinement meetings, ensure things are in the right order, and keep that communication flowing. 🤝

This doesn’t just empower the product owner. It pushes back to that team, that self-managing entity, to determine what’s essential and when.

Communication and collaboration, especially during those refinement meetings, are key to ensuring everything aligns seamlessly.

Keep It Simple

Sure, sometimes, you might need complex processes due to regulatory reasons or organisational culture, but remember to, wherever possible, ‘keep it simple.’

And yes, as a Scrum Master, it’s your role to ensure things are streamlined.

But in an ideal world? If priorities change, the team acknowledges it, adjusts, and voilà – “change the order of stuff”. 💡

Remember, simplicity is golden.

In Conclusion

Changing priorities in the backlog needn’t be the mammoth task some make it out to be. Simplicity is key. Keep it uncomplicated. Embrace the changes, adjust, and keep moving forward. 🔥

And if my musings have piqued your interest and you’re looking to navigate the Agile world more confidently, consider exploring my Agile and Scrum courses. 🚀

What are your thoughts on backlog management?

Drop me a message and let’s chat!

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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