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Pack light, move fast; a backpacking story on how to manage your backlog

Updated: Apr 22

Valuable lessons learned from backpacking on why you should treat your backlog like a backpack.

The planning was in full bloom, a summer on rails, from Berlin to Lisbon and back, all the stops mapped out; mountains, oceans, cities and forest. I even got myself a fancy new backpack to accompany me on the trip.

I started to fill my backpack with the essentials, beach clothes, city clothes and comfy clothes. Going south, it’ll be warm. Maybe just an extra sweater, maybe two caps and for sure an extra pair of shoes and a couple of books, just two extra, I’ll read on the train. Slowly the bag is starting to fill up and yes, it’s a bit heavy.

Just because you can carry it does not mean you should pack it full.

First leg of the trip and I hadn’t even opened the bag other than to get a toothbrush that was in the lid. I almost missed a train trying to get the bag on my back with all its weight. And as I was running in the pouring rain to the train in Austria I was bitterly regretting leaving my rain jacket at home since it was de-prioritised to make space for that extra sweater I thought I needed in 35 degrees south French summer heat.

At the second stop, I had to empty the whole bag to reach the tickets to the hotel that I should have but didn’t, put on top. And apparently, I found it essential to take a full set of silverware and some plastic plates for all those picnics I was planning to have. Picnics I had, but the “planned plates” were nowhere to be found when needed.

From the third stop on I slowly stopped folding things, just pushed it down, who cares, it’s all a mess anyways. In Spain, I wanted to get my friend a gift, but I had no space. That book I never read took up the last space in the bag. Somewhere on a train in south Portugal, I lost my favourite pair of socks and you can forget about matching anything. All my planned outfits are nowhere to be found and I spent my vacation looking like a kindergartener with a very peculiar sense of style.

And coming back home just to realise that I hadn’t even seen the items in the bottom of the bag…

Imagine now that this is your backlog.

We fill our backlog with far too many items, this makes us slow and we lose perspective. We cannot find things or lose connection between them. Meanwhile, we cannot add the newly discovered things we should work on and slowly we give up on order and get sloppier with each wrinkly ticket. Somewhere down the line, we have completely lost control, we start asking others to make tickets and put them in your backpack, sorry backlog.

This, my fellow product humans, is why we should pack our backlog light.

We need to easily carry the weight, find what we’re looking for, and be able to add brilliant new ways to bring value to our customers as we go. We need the tickets to be neatly folded, I mean documented, with all information our developers need and for stakeholders to understand what’s going on.

Don’t cram your backlog to the max, fill it only with things you know you will need for the next foreseeable future.

Don’t get sloppy with the quality of your tickets, this will just take your time.

Don’t misjudge the importance of prioritisation, what you need/will work on, on the top.

Don’t allow others to throw things in there; if you do, at least be sure you know what it is.

Don’t put all your and other ideas in there, only the things you will work on, good ideas come back, always.

With this mindset, you can get back on track. Make sure you pack light to move fast and never miss a good opportunity.


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