When to Delete Product Backlog Items

Manjit Singh, Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Trainer (CST), ICAgile Certified Expert In Agile Coaching (ICE-AC)

June 4, 2021 Posted by agilious In Product Development

I am surprised that so many Scrum Product Owners (PO) ask the question: “when to delete product backlog items?” On probing a little, it turns out many POs are afraid or hesitate to delete product backlog items (PBIs) for various reasons. I have heard reasons like:

  1. The PBI was requested by an external stakeholder, so I cannot delete it
  2. The PBI is needed but is low priority and will be developed in a future release
  3. The PBI was requested by an internal stakeholder, so I have to keep it
  4. I may forget this feature (and hence want to keep it)
  5. It is a great idea, and I like to retain all ideas we have received

The problem with each of the above reasons is that they are not valid reasons that “corrupt” your product backlog. This corruption leads to several problems:

  • Bloated backlog, making it hard to manage
  • Backlog consists of many items that are not of high value
  • Difficult to find items that are truly valuable which should be surfaced to the top of the backlog
  • Backlog devolves into a “repository” of wish list items
  • Backlog soon becomes “stale” since majority of the items are not refined (and may not get refined for a long time)
  • The large backlog discourages the Team from looking at it frequently

So what is the solution? I recommend two solutions.

First, be very judicious about what you add to the backlog. Add items that are truly of value and will be worked on by the team in the next 1-5 Sprints. How do you know if the time is of value? I will discuss this in a separate blog article. Practicing the maxim “prevention is better than the cure” will save you headache, frustration and time spent on cleaning the backlog down the road. So if you don’t add items that are not valuable, you won’t have to delete them!

Second solution is to refine your backlog religiously. You’ve heard this most popular real estate quote of all time: “Location, location, location.” Similarly, the secret to a “healthy” backlog is: refinement, refinement, refinement! This means reviewing the items in your backlog not just during the Product Backlog Refinement meeting with your team, but to review it yourself every day or minimum every alternate day. Then, the moment you realize or determine that a PBI will not provide value, delete it!

What do you think?

When should product backlog items be deleted? When do you delete product backlog items? What approaches do you use to delete backlog items?