Product Owners – Delete your Parking Lot

 When we at Tolpagorni have sessions on requirement engineering, backlog management, or prioritization techniques the discussions around parking lots for opportunities that might be done later is always fierce. Perhaps because I have strong opinions about the subject and many others seem to as well. With parking lots I don’t mean the space where you keep unused cars but rather an artefact where you keep items that will not be done in the foreseeable future.

We all know what a backlog is - a list of prioritized items that shall be done. The level of refinement on an item decreases the further down in the backlog it is. The items can be user stories, epics, requirements, opportunities, marketing tasks you name it. The size of the backlog depends on the release cadence of your product or the tactical horizon. A healthy backlog contains items that shall be and will be done. If the lower part of your backlog looks more like a wish list or things that might perhaps be done than that is your parking lot.

At some companies the wish list is kept as a separate artefact referred to as the parking lot. The list can contain all sorts of things from quality improvements, new ideas, customer requirements. For me this is not a good idea. If for example, the backlog has a life span of 1 year, items that will not be done within a year shall not be kept, not in the backlog and not in a separate parking lot artefact.

Some of the reasons behind this rather firm statement are:

  • The context in which the item was created will change
  • Cluttering of focus
  • Expensive to manage
  • Prevents you from building new insights
  • No parking lot means more transparent communication
  • Easier to keep the strategic intent

If there is a parking lot it will have to be evaluated with regular intervals to see if anything in there should move into the backlog. This is an expensive activity and rarely with the result that we will move an item. Why is it expensive? Think about the people you need to review a parking lot. It is the product owner, key developers, architects perhaps product management. This is usually bottle necks in the organization and using their time to go through a parking lot will mean other things do not get done. Like building new insights, understanding where the market is now and where it is heading. How have the customers changed since you did your last release? What would bring the greatest value?

From a communication perspective it is better when an innovative idea, customer request or any other input is provided to immediately categorize it as in the backlog or out. And if it is out be sure to communicate that back to the originator with an explanation and a big thank you. Thank you for caring about our product.

For things that will happen beyond the span of your backlog you should use the product strategy. It will not be broken down but you should know what your strategic intent is for the next few years. This should be visible in your roadmap.

All in all, a healthy backlog in conjunction with a product strategy will leave you in a far better place than a parking lot, so let’s just delete it.

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About Petra Färm

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