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Agile Tools Won’t Solve Your Problem Part 2

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/buzzfarmers/7318395990/sizes/z/in/photostream/In Part 1, we looked at what happens when you use Agile tools at the beginning of your Agile journey. Today we’re going to look at what can happen later on.

So let’s fast-forward a little bit from our last conversation. Let’s say you’ve been applying everything you’ve learned about Agile for the last while and are having great success with it. You’ve got whiteboards and stickies everywhere, people are collaborating more than they ever were before and information radiators are everywhere.

There’s just one small problem, your backlog is a mess!

Since you’ve been doing such a great job, people have been pushing for new features left and right and your backlog has been growing and growing.

Well, now we need a better way to categorize, prioritize, organize, track, search, comment, review, keep history, graph, vote up, like, +1, share, and attach cat pictures to all these features! Time to get an Agile tool!

Once again, I’m going to ask you to slowly step away from the tool…

You really do have a problem managing your backlog, but not the one you think!

The problem isn’t that you don’t have a sophisticated backlog management tool that can handle large amounts of backlog items. The problem is that you have too many items in your backlog!

I’ll say it another way,

You don’t need a better backlog management tool, you need a smaller backlog [click to tweet]

A tool won’t help you keep your backlog small, in fact, it’s more likely to do the exact opposite. Once it’s easy enough to store and search through all these backlog items forever and all eternity, the hoarding bug is going to kick in and it’s going to kick in hard.

Agile backlog tools encourage hoarding. Don’t be a hoarder. [click to tweet]

I know what you’re thinking, “but what if that feature is the next million dollar idea?!?”, “what if I forget all the details and discussions we had around it, shouldn’t we have a place to track all that?”.

The hoarding bug has already taken hold…

Large tracking systems encourage us to become hoarders. We’re afraid to let go of what might be the next brilliant feature. We’re afraid to hurt someones feelings by telling them that their pet feature just isn’t important enough to get implemented. Or worse, we’re afraid of saying no because the person requesting the feature holds a position of power in the organization!

Last time we talked about one of the values from the Agile Manifesto, today I’m going to refer you to one of the Scrum values: focus.

One of the reasons Agile teams perform as well as they do is because they are able to focus. Whether that focus is achieved through focusing on only the items in the current Sprint or by limiting work in process (WiP), focus is vital to the success of any Agile organization. That means even the backlog itself must be focused and free of distractions.

Don’t worry, if it’s a really great feature it won’t be forgotten, it will keep coming up until something is done about it. Otherwise, let it go.

You’ll end up wasting more time constantly revisiting these low priority items, getting up to speed again on them and making sure that they’re all still current than you would spend implementing them.

I’ve seen organizations with thousands of items in their backlog tool, some many years old. I’ve seen them have meetings upon meetings debating whether they can get rid of some of these items. And after all that wasted time, they usually decide to keep most of the items, even though they will never get around to implementing them!

Of course, you could just work lots of overtime to get all those features implemented, there are no problems with that…

And what happens to all those information radiators? Where’s transparency and visibility when it’s all locked in a tool on a website that people have to actively seek out in order to find the information they don’t even know they’re looking for? And will they even have access to the tool (“licenses cost money, you know? Maybe everybody doesn’t need to have write access, or even read access…”)? How frequently will individuals interact when you can instead direct them to go read the tool?

As I said before, there are a lot of great companies that make tools for Agile, and one day you may decide to use one, but before you decide that you absolutely must have that shiny Agile tool, make sure you look at addressing the root cause of your pain and not just the symptom.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a solarium I need to clean out…

Today’s image by buzzfarmers.

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