Trimming the Fat

During our last planning meeting, we were unpleasantly surprised that very few items were taken into the sprint backlogs (we have three teams in a LeSS model). Now there were good reasons for this (a lot of unfinished work that had to roll over, middle of vacation season) and no one blamed the teams, but it gave us pause.

The other “red flag” was the structure of the backlog. We bucket our backlog items into four tiers: next sprint, next+1 – next+2 sprint,  next+3 – next+5 sprint, no timeline. Combined with some statistical data about the number of items completed per sprint, gives us a measure of confidence about being on track. Well the tier 2 bucket had 3 sprints worth of work and since tier 1 did not empty out as expected, we knew that we had more work than we would be able to get through.

There and then we decided to do a quick scrub of the backlog. Very quickly we decided to classify work items into one of three categories: MVP, neutral, fat. The latter category was things that would help us or make the product a bit better, but were far removed from MVP and the product (and team) could live without it.

We were surprised (though probably shouldn’t have been) that a majority of tasks fell into the ‘fat’ category. Now we are faced with a hard discussion about priorities and verifying our opinion of what is “fat”, but it shows that we do have enough bandwidth to deliver what is important.

When is the last time you looked through the backlog for things that aren’t important?

(All references to we mean myself and my manager – we co-manage the engineers doing the work and act as PO).

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