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#249 – List Debt

April 23rd, 2021

Parabol Backlog Length by Month Over Time

This week, we scrubbed the product backlog to keep it from growing to infinite length.

Scrubbing the backlog is something we do every sprint. It isn’t glamorous but it deserves to be written about. You see, we’d assert it’s as important to add and complete items on your team’s list of things to do as it is to remove things and choose to not do them. These actions are where strategy becomes reality.

Once per sprint (presently once every two weeks) the Product Manager on the team leads a session which may optionally be attended by other members of the team. The Product Manager performs two actions:

  1. Grooming new issues by making sure they have clear acceptance criteria (i.e. a “definition of done” and an estimated effort
  2. “Iceboxing” issues that have gone stale

The Deep Freeze

Thinking critically about what to work on is what propels an organization forward. As we’ve shared about strategic development before, the list of things a team can do is never ending:

All creative people are capable of making a list of ideas longer than their capacity to execute upon them. A form of organizational paralysis is caused by people working together without a process to select which ideas turn into active projects. 

List debt is real. The longer the list of things you could do, the more difficult it becomes to weigh the relative importance of what to do next. We choose to remove these items from active consideration by placing them into the icebox—a term and labeling scheme that means “not going to do (but maybe one day).”

In practice, an automated GitHub Action marks all issues that haven’t been commented on or changed in the past 6 months as stale. During our backlog scrub we find all of the open issues marked stale and decide if we wish to apply the icebox label and close the issue or if the issue should remain open—and often, prioritize it for execution within the next sprint or two.

Over the past four and a half years, our process of pruning the backlog has kept our backlog length manageable. We’re seeing that backlog length creep up. More people means more issues opened. Likely when we start to however around a backlog length of 300, it’ll trigger fresh tensions for us to adjust our scrubbing policy...but at least there is a policy and practice to make adjustments

Metrics

Parabol Metrics for Friday Ship 249

There were green lights across the board this week. Top-of-funnel growth is slowing a bit; we wonder if we’ll be able to sustain 100k sessions every 30 days. User metrics are growing once again at a healthy clip. Nearly 2,000 meetings were run this week! We’re noting passing 200 Sprint Poker meetings run per week.

This week we…

shipped 6.8.0 into production. This release included fixes for some of the most common issues folks are running into when they run a Sprint Poker meeting: we now validate that GitHub or Jira will allow us to create new issues as the users have written them, added tooltips to Sprint Poker avatars, fixed an issue where we might try update a story or meeting data before it exists and cause a failure, and fixed a bug where we indicated multiple folks were editing an item when it wasn’t true.

 

conducted dozens of interviews. In addition to all the screening and interviewing, we also have 5 folks performing their Batting Practice, the final stage of Parabol's hiring process.

 

explored new designs for our Icebreaker round, small and large in scope. Since we refactored our meeting implementation to only show the members who are online, it made our Icebreaker order predictable: the person who starts the meeting will always go first. We are playing with a little design to fix this:

Parabol Icebreaker v2 Randomization Design Prototype

We also have ideas for how to make IceBreakers much more engaging:

Parabol Icebreaker v2 Design Prototype with Video

concluded Sprint 77. Our teams held their retros today. There is a ton of work in flight: media interviews and new product guides, refactors and new features. It’s going to be an exciting next few weeks.

Next week we’ll…

welcome a few members to their new residences. While other parts of the world return to lockdown, others are opening their borders. Some members are traveling to be closer to their families while others are traveling for better access to services. We wish them well on their travels this weekend and look forward to welcoming them back to work next week

kick off Sprint 78. 


 

Have feedback? See something that you like or something you think could be better? Leave a public response here, or write to us.

 

Jordan Husney

Jordan Husney spent 20+ years helping technology serve people. His passion for collaboration, agile development, and remote teams led him to start Parabol, a free online retrospective tool.

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