You need a single backlog for Epics/Features/Stories

Single Backlog for Epics/Features/Stories

 Many organizations begin their agile journey at the team level. Team’s pick out a tool and begin inputting features and stories into a backlog. As more teams adopt agile and by default the agile tool they each create their own disparate backlog. In the early stages you will often find various forms of manual tool tracking emerge in the form of powerpoint presentations, google docs, spreadsheets, wiki pages etc to try to track work across multiple teams at a higher more strategic (epic) level. This creates prioritization challenges.

Having multiple lists of features or epics creates a difficult situation

It’s hard and often manual to consolidate these lists, and due to the changing nature of agile work it’s even harder to keep things up to date and maintained. As a result product managers struggle to see all of the work and clearly prioritize one feature or epic against another. Ultimately you will find teams are spending time developing features that have lower value to the organization than other items that are sitting untouched in their backlog. The leadership is frustrated that the wrong work is getting done and the teams are frustrated that they aren’t getting clear direction.

The Solution

Upgrading the team level agile tool by adding plugins or purchasing a more robust tool with integrations to the team tool will create the potential to have a true portfolio tree where all related work can be connected and visible at the various levels. Most tools designed for larger organizations will allow for enterprise rollups making it very clear what features are in process, and which ones are prioritized next. This will give the individuals responsible for larger initiatives the ability to understand what work is currently in flight, and answer “is it the right work?”.

If it’s not in your budget initially to purchase the extensions needed to create these views you need to ensure there is one and only one place to go to view enterprise epics. You also need one and only one place to go to view features. This may be the same place or could potentially be two places (two google sheets for instance) Either way you need to make sure there is only one place to go to maintain these manual lists. The minute you introduce another options (google sheet + wiki) you’ll lose the ability to ensure teams are working from the right prioritized list. While this patch can work in reality most organizations that maintain these lists for more  than 6 months realize the cost to extend their team tool is less than the labor cost to manually maintain these lists.

Danny Presten

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