How detailed should the backlog be?

Structuring a backlog is still an issue discussed in some agile teams, and a recurring point has been the excessive details that go into all the backlog items.

To help with this matter, we use the horizon metaphor to guide the PO’s job.

Some problems found 

When we work on a backlog, we can make the mistake of detailing and making decisions about items that are too far down the line. Taking agile principles and values into account, this can lead to the following problems:

1- High degree of rework in case of a change of direction.

2- The effort taken to detail distant items is higher.

3- Small decisions need to be made much sooner than necessary.

4- It is difficult to manage a giant backlog.

The Horizon perspective applied to the backlog

Imagine that you are out on the street of a big city and that the backlog is a sequence of steps going in the direction we currently believe the product is headed. For our next steps, we know plenty of details about the path we’ll take – the street names are clear, we can see details of the buildings and people passing by, and whether the closest traffic light is open.

However, as we look further ahead, the details become less precise. We can see that there are taller and lower buildings, a white building and a blue one, and as we look toward the horizon we have fewer details about the path we imagine we will follow.

Part of the Product Owner’s job is to constantly look down this path. Approach your backlog thinking of the following steps and focusing adequately on what is on your horizon. It’s always good to keep in mind that adapting to change is more important than following a plan.

Have you been feeling that your team is experiencing any of these symptoms? Please share your view with us in the comments.


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(In Memoriam) Daniel Teixeira


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