Don’t delete your backlog
Also a lovely new edition of Lord of the Rings
There’s a sentiment I started to see in the agile development world that advocates for deleting old/stale items off a backlog completely. A good recent example is Jason Knight’s latest newsletter:
The backlog becomes a dumping ground for every single customer support query. Every account manager and every salesperson has something in there from conversations with customers and prospects. […]
It’s tempting to see “length of time in backlog” as some kind of vector for prioritisation, but it really isn’t. It’s quite the inverse, in fact. So let’s all try to get comfortable, embrace the idea of getting rid of old stuff in our backlogs, and give people a “no” rather than a “one day”.
I’m not trying to pick on Jason—his work is great and it’s another very good edition of his newsletter! I am just using it as an example that got me thinking about this a bit more deeply.
My take is that we should absolutely keep all customer feedback around in our backlogs, because that is continuous discovery data that would be a shame to lose. Instead, my proposal would be to normalize the backlog as a place to build organizational memory and a customer feedback knowledge base—not as a list of things that all have to get done.
Two tactics can help with this approach. First, a Now/Next/Later roadmap keeps the focus on the list of current priorities. The entire backlog doesn’t go into the “Later” column—only things that are currently prioritized to start within the next few months.
Second, have a standard process that the entire company (especially the customer success team) can use to collect user feedback and attach it to features. In our case that’s Productboard, and our success team can easily add and process customer feedback via a browser extension.
I guess our list of features in Productboard is technically our “backlog”, but it doesn’t cause us stress in terms of feeling like we need to work on everything that’s on there. However, as part of our planning cycle we can go through this list and figure out if anything is important enough to pull into the “Later” column of our roadmap. An added bonus: if/when we start to work on any of those features we have access to lots of customer data about each feature, and we can reach out to those customers to have more in-depth conversations with them about their needs.
So instead of deleting old issues off our backlogs, let’s rather remove the pressure and stigma around what backlogs are for (maybe we should rename it to “customer needs knowledge base”?). And then let’s use our actual roadmaps for the list of things we know we’re going to work on.
Marco Rogers has been an engineer and manager of engineers for 20 years. In this posthe shares some short, practical (but not always easy to follow!) advice for engineers. A few of my favorites:
Learn what the true scope of the project needs to be. Back away from “story points” and understand what the project needs to accomplish. More context about the goals will help you negotiate what’s in and what’s out of scope.
Collaborate on designs. Designs never have the level of detail that matters. When you run into UX problems, work with people to develop a solution. Don’t just ask for more mocks. Own the details of what you’re building.
Don’t just write code. Solve problems. Make sure you understand the value of your work and you talk to people about that. Not just “features”. For example, “this needs to ship by Fall because it’s our big strategic bet for the year.” Tell people how to achieve the strategic goal.
Read the rest of his post for the rest.
What would happen if we look at time through the lens of attachment theory? That’s the question my friendasks in Attachment Styles to Time. I definitely have an “anxious attachment style” with time:
An anxiously attached person to time will try to arrest it: to find comfort again in a space where time felt distant. A coping strategy is to try and keep things the way they were. To hold onto people and places even if you aren’t present anymore.
The framing also reminds me of the Japanese phrase Mono no aware:
Mono no aware (物の哀れ), lit. ’the pathos of things’, and also translated as ‘an empathy toward things’, or ‘a sensitivity to ephemera’, is a Japanese idiom for the awareness of impermanence (無常, mujō), or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.
That is also basically what the entire “synthwave” genre is about so if you’d like to hear what that concept sounds like as a song, just make your way over to Los Angeles by The Midnight.
Some Stray Links
🧙♂️ There and back again: a tale of two book editions. I replaced my original copy of Lord of the Rings with a new edition after 24 years, and wrote a bit about it. [elezea.com]
📼 Cassettes Are Making a Comeback, But Can Production Keep Up? “After music cassettes died in the late ’90s, National Audio kept busy with cassettes for instructional materials, spoken-word bibles and Library of Congress work until indie bands and labels came calling as early as 2006. ‘Suddenly, we were back in business,’ Stepp says.” I love that story. [billboard.com]
👂 Things I Do Not Like Hearing. I appreciate a well-written personal grievances post. This one—about phrases the author doesn’t like—is bound to become a classic of the genre. “I have never read the words ‘friendly reminder’ and not imagined that person seething, incandescent, smoke blowing out of their ears like a hot kettle, just absolutely furious. I simply don’t believe you. I do not think that you think we are friends or that this interaction is friendly. If you want to fight, we can fight.” [holapapi.substack.com]
✍️ Engagement, Attention, Shining a Light. This is a great writing goal: “My goal is for my writing to engage readers on a ‘shared inquiry’ level, where whatever I am saying is not viewed as a declaration that demands agreement, but an exploration attempting to illuminate the subject at hand in a way that encourages the reader to go exploring with a light of their own.” [biblioracle.substack.com]
📚 A library of words. I bet you didn’t think you’d want to read about the real purpose of a Thesaurus today, but you’re going to have to trust me. This post is fantastic. “The purpose of an ordinary Dictionary is to simply explain the meaning of the words. After you look up the word, you are given the idea the word is supposed to convey. The Thesaurus is supposed to work in the opposite direction: you start with an idea, and then you find the words to express it. A dictionary turns words into ideas and a thesaurus turns ideas into words.” [austinkleon.substack.com]
💾 SF’s Market Street Subway Is Running on Floppy Disks. This is quite something. “SFMTA is hardly unique in using them, however. As recently as 2020, British Airways was loading avionics software onto 747s via floppy disk.” I also love that they felt the need to include a photo of a floppy disk in the article. [sfstandard.com]
📀 Latex, severed legs and fake erections: why is a whole new generation obsessed with DVD menus? This is a wonderful homage to the lost art of DVD menus. “Some turn-of-the-century landing pages were so imaginative they cut through into popular consciousness: 2003’s House of 1,000 Corpses featured a murderous clown directly addressing (and mocking) the viewer, while the Harry Potter DVD let viewers choose a wand, cast spells, and solve puzzles to access deleted scenes.” [theguardian.com]
🔮 An Imperfect List of Books Like “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”. This is my favorite book I’ve read in a long time. Good list of others to try. [bookriot.com]
🔗 Even more links, from the blog: Link roundup for February 9, 2023.