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How do you keep the backlog from getting too large?

Keeping the Backlog Manageable

In the dynamic world of Agile project management, a pressing question that I often encounter is, “How do you keep the backlog from getting too large?”

Today, I’m here to share a kernel of wisdom from my extensive experience in Agile, coupled with actionable advice on managing your backlog efficiently. πŸš€

The Importance of De-Cluttering Your Backlog

Now, allow me to get straight to the point. How do you prevent your backlog from becoming an insurmountable mountain?

Well, it’s simple – make liberal use of that delete key. πŸ—‘οΈ

Yes, you heard me right and I cannot emphasise this enough.

But let’s delve deeper here, and I promise, it’s a topic deserving of our utmost consideration.

Every item populating your backlog demands a certain level of deliberation. It will go into refinement, and at the very least, a decision needs to be made regarding its relevance and necessity.

As I often point out, a sprawling backlog only translates to a plethora of decisions that, frankly speaking, you don’t need to grapple with. Therefore, be decisive, remove that stuff, and use your delete key. πŸš€

The Tide Line Analogy: Discerning the Vital from the Soggy

Here’s a metaphor I frequently use – envision your backlog as a tide line on the beach with “all the seaweed and everything above it is nice and dry and everything below it a little bit soggy at times. The same goes for your backlog.

Your mission is to discard that soggy stuff. πŸš€

While these aren’t necessarily bad ideas, they were significant enough to make it onto the backlog at one point.

However, they’re not as good as all these other ideas that are above the timeline, and the influx of new ideas consistently outshines them.

Product Owner’s Crucial Role

A product owner needs to navigate the backlog with precision.

A pivotal role in managing the backlog falls onto the shoulders of the product owner. Much of their work involves explaining why some ideas won’t materialise, and it usually boils down to prioritisation.

They often say, “Thank you, it’s a good idea, interesting, but not as good as all these other things.”

You see, there’s only so much time, money, and human resources at our disposal.

Thus, focusing on the most impactful initiatives β€” delivering the highest value to our users β€” becomes paramount. βš™οΈ

Remember, the focal point should always be on those initiatives that deliver the most value or the most impact to the users.

A Confidant, Advisor, and Coach

As Scrum Masters, we find ourselves as confidants, advisors, and coaches, fostering a collaborative environment where the product owner can make informed decisions about what to retain and discard from the backlog.

It’s about helping them sift through a pile of ideas, nudging them to ask critical questions such as, “Do you need it, or are you going to do it?”

The Art of Ruthless Curation

The crucial question is – archive or delete?

In the dynamic landscape of backlog management, I have come to advocate strongly for ruthless curation.

The crux of managing a backlog lies in ruthless curation. Keep your backlog first focused on the immediate product goal.

It’s crucial to concentrate efforts on the primary objective, whether increasing website users or any other pivotal goal. Any idea that doesn’t contribute directly towards achieving this goal should be questioned for its place in the backlog.

Remember, it’s not about disregarding good ideas but aligning efforts with the immediate goal.

This proactive approach saves time, energy, and resources, preventing unnecessary stagnation in the development process. πŸ’‘

Join My Agile & Scrum Courses: Your Gateway to Scrum Mastery

Ready to conquer the agile world and hone your scrum skills?

My Agile and Scrum courses explore these topics in great detail and are designed to take you through a rich learning journey where we dissect these topics and much more.

Remember, a well-managed backlog is your stepping stone to a successful project. πŸ’‘

If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Agile Coaches page.

If you are inspired by the idea of an online apprenticeship for a scrum master, visit

If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.

If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.

If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master (CSP-SM) course page.

For more information on John McFadyen, visit or connect with John on LinkedIn at

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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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