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Periodically cleaning out your backlog is well worth your time

Marie Kondo was all the rage a little bit ago with her focus on decluttering your house. By periodically looking at the stuff in your house and deciding if you really need it, you can keep your situation calm and manageable. The KonMari method suggests you touch something, decide if it brings you joy, and get rid of it if it doesn't. 

The same ideas apply to all the work that you have in your team's backlog. If you have stories that have been around for a year or so and they've never been worked on, maybe it's best to remove them from the long list of things you might need to do at some point. Or if you have features that were dreamed up 2 years ago and they've never been high enough priority to work on, you might want to consider if you'll ever get to them.

Jira Align provides a couple tools that help you evaluate your backlog. 

The Runway

Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 7.09.23 PM.pngThe runway shows up in the Align Program Room, and it gives you a view of your Epic, Feature, and Story backlog (based on estimates your experts have provided at each level.)

In the view above, this program (or team of teams) has enough portfolio epics to keep them busy for 108 months, or 9 years. They've got enough features to keep them busy for 52 months, or 4 years and 4 months. It's highly unlikely the work that is 4 years down the road will still be worth doing 4 years from now.

The Grid

 Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 8.06.17 PM.png

Here I'm looking at the Feature Grid. I've filtered it out so I look at Features that are on the Unassigned Backlog (meaning we haven't added them to a future program increment.) And I've added in the Age to the Columns Shown. See that one that's 606 days old? While it may have been a great idea 606 days ago when a Product Manager entered it, perhaps it's not something we're going to pursue after more than a year and half.

The Backlog

Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 8.15.10 PM.png

Here I'm looking at the Unassigned Backlog of features. Again, I've added the Age to the Columns Shown. That item that is #69 in the list of things to get to and has been in our backlog for 564 days? It is probably going to stay at the bottom of the list for a very long time. It's better just to delete it.


Keeping the backlog manageable helps your team sort through what is really important. Having a list of things to do for the next 4 years might seem like a great thing for job security, but it can also be overwhelming for your teammates who are looking at all the things they need to do. And in today's world, if something has been in your backlog for 4 years and you still haven't done it, do you think it's really worth doing?

Align gives you several tools for looking at your story, feature and epic backlogs to help remove the items that are no longer worth doing. It's up to you to periodically use those tools to remove the items that no longer bring you joy. Make Marie Kondo proud.



Kimberly Deal _Columbus ACE_
Community Leader
Community Leader
Community Leaders are connectors, ambassadors, and mentors. On the online community, they serve as thought leaders, product experts, and moderators.
Feb 06, 2020

@Rich Sparks This is a great point!  Just in time to do some spring cleaning too.  Thank you for the inspiration!

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Shawn Kessler
Atlassian Team
Atlassian Team members are employees working across the company in a wide variety of roles.
Feb 06, 2020

@Rich Sparks we probably need to clean up the old AgileCraft backlog at some point too ;)

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Kat Warner
Marketplace Partner
Marketplace Partners provide apps and integrations available on the Atlassian Marketplace that extend the power of Atlassian products.
Feb 06, 2020

My second favourite sticker from Summit 2019 was "More No. Less WIP", however some people like to let tickets "marinate". 

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Atlassian Team
Atlassian Team members are employees working across the company in a wide variety of roles.
Feb 06, 2020

@Rich Sparks , this article sparks joy ✨Thanks for showing the way to a cleaner backlog with Jira Align.

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Emily Koch
Atlassian Team
Atlassian Team members are employees working across the company in a wide variety of roles.
Feb 07, 2020

This is a great article! And yes @Shawn Kessler , we do need to clean up the old backlog, but at least our team follows this practice on a regular basis :P

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