5 tips to triage your software release backlog

It’s often difficult for software development teams to effectively prioritize their workloads. The requests for changes and new features come thick and fast in most enterprise organizations. Every department wants top priority as they fight for their own client projects, but the development team has a limited capacity to deliver.

When developers are in firefighting mode, constantly being asked to change gears and take on new tasks, efficiency plummets. The path to clearing the backlog lies through proper planning, a system of prioritization, and a clear roadmap that provides stability and predictability. A time box release model will deliver benefits for IT, business, and the clients.

Set up time box releases

Fixing release dates immediately introduces some stability into your process. It also allows different business groups to reliably predict when new features and change requests are going to be rolled out. Everybody hates it when release dates slip, but a time box release cycle can alleviate this. Finding the right cycle for your team will depend on the project, but somewhere between four and eight weeks is a good place to start.

A fixed period for each cycle allows development to calculate exactly how much they can get done with their current resources. The cycles can be reduced over time. Different companies and projects will want different cycle lengths. The important thing is to have a fixed date for each release.

Prioritize the requests

Triage is all about sorting the incoming requests and ensuring that the highest priority ones are dealt with first. Get your business groups to rank their requests, based on how important they are to the client. They should each submit a limited list of their top ten or 20 ranked requests. Set a deadline for submission a week or two before the cycle begins.

Everyone should get round the table to slot requests into the release backlog. The scrum master, the product owner, the developers, and QA need to put their heads together to assess the request and estimate how to deliver it.

Lock the cycle down

When the cycle has been drawn up and signed off it should be locked down. If any business group wants to change a request or submit something new, they must be aware that it won’t be considered until the next cycle. Failure to apply this rule will make it impossible for the current crop of priorities to be delivered on time.

Build in a contingency

There will occasionally be a genuine emergency that has to be accommodated, so always build in some contingency. Saving 10% to 15% of capacity to deal with an important client demand or a special emergency case is sensible, but be sure to establish urgency before accepting a new request.

Plan for the future

Once everyone is used to the new system and priorities are being regularly delivered for every cycle as promised, business groups and their clients will feel the benefits. It may be possible to plan further ahead and create a roadmap that stretches six months or a year into the future. Fixing release dates and project submission deadlines can really help improve efficiency.

Setting a realistic plan and a methodical approach to clearing that software release backlog is the best way forward for everyone concerned.

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