How to Tackle a Messy Product Backlog as a New Intern: Insights from the Agile Community |

How to Tackle a Messy Product Backlog as a New Intern: Insights from the Agile Community

Embarking on a new internship can be both exciting and daunting, especially when your first task is to clean up a product backlog that resembles a chaotic jungle. This is the exact scenario a Reddit user, Snoo-64655, found themselves in when they reached out to the Agile community for advice. The responses were a mix of empathy, practical tips, and a sprinkle of humor. Let's dive into the collective wisdom shared by experienced Agile practitioners to help any intern—or even a seasoned professional—tame the wild beast that is a messy product backlog.

The Dilemma: A Backlog in Disarray

Snoo-64655's post paints a vivid picture of the challenges they face:

  • Items without acceptance criteria
  • Stories ranging from last week to two years ago
  • Placeholder stories mixed with legitimate ones
  • Everything compiled in an Excel sheet

Adding to the complexity, Snoo-64655 admits to not having any technical experience, making it difficult to differentiate between tech stories and business stories.

Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning Up a Product Backlog

1. Understand the Basics

Before diving into the backlog, it's crucial to understand the fundamentals of what you're dealing with. One user suggested, "Start by familiarizing yourself with the basics of Agile and Scrum. Knowing the difference between user stories, tasks, and bugs will help you categorize items more effectively."

2. Categorize and Prioritize

The first actionable step is to categorize the backlog items. A user recommended, "Create categories for tech stories, business stories, bugs, and placeholder stories. This will help you see the overall structure and identify what needs immediate attention."

Another comment added, "Use the MoSCoW method to prioritize: Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have. This will help you focus on the most critical items first."

3. Engage with the Team

Communication is key. One user emphasized, "Don't try to do this in isolation. Engage with your team members, especially the product owner and developers. They can provide insights into what each item is and its priority."

Another practical tip was, "Set up a meeting with the product owner to go through the backlog together. They can help you identify which items are outdated and which ones need to be refined."

4. Refine and Add Acceptance Criteria

A common issue Snoo-64655 mentioned was the lack of acceptance criteria. One experienced Agile practitioner advised, "For each item, ask the product owner or the original requester to provide acceptance criteria. This will make it clear what 'done' looks like for each story."

Another user added, "If an item is too vague, consider breaking it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This will make it easier to refine and assign points."

5. Use Agile Tools

While Excel can be a good starting point, several users recommended moving to more specialized Agile tools. One comment suggested, "Consider using tools like Jira, Trello, or ClickUp. These tools offer features specifically designed for managing backlogs and can make your life a lot easier."

6. Regular Backlog Grooming

Cleaning up a backlog is not a one-time task. One user mentioned, "Make backlog grooming a regular part of your sprint cycle. This will prevent it from becoming unmanageable again."

Another user humorously added, "Think of it like brushing your teeth. Do it regularly to avoid a painful cleanup later!"

Challenges and Solutions

Challenge 1: Identifying Outdated Items

A common issue is distinguishing between relevant and outdated items. One user shared, "If a story is more than a year old and hasn't been touched, it's likely outdated. Check with the team before discarding, but don't be afraid to clean house."

Challenge 2: Lack of Technical Knowledge

For interns like Snoo-64655, lacking technical expertise can be intimidating. One user offered reassurance, "You don't need to be a tech wizard. Focus on understanding the business value of each item. The technical details can be filled in by the developers."

Challenge 3: Placeholder Stories

Placeholder stories can clutter the backlog. One user advised, "Convert placeholders into actionable items. If they can't be defined, consider removing them until they can be properly articulated."

Real-Life Experiences from the Community

Empathy and Humor

Many users empathized with Snoo-64655's situation, sharing their own experiences. One user humorously recounted, "I remember my first backlog cleanup. It felt like untangling a set of Christmas lights that had been in the attic for years!"

Practical Advice

Practical advice was abundant. One user shared, "I once had a backlog with over 500 items. We tackled it by setting aside an hour each week for backlog grooming. It took time, but we got it under control."


Encouragement was also a common theme. One user wrote, "Don't get discouraged. Backlog cleanup is a rite of passage. You'll learn a lot from this experience, and your team will appreciate your efforts."

Final Thoughts

Cleaning up a product backlog can feel like an overwhelming task, especially for a new intern. However, with the right approach and support from your team, it can be a manageable and even rewarding experience. By understanding the basics, categorizing and prioritizing items, engaging with the team, refining acceptance criteria, using Agile tools, and committing to regular backlog grooming, you can transform a chaotic backlog into a well-organized and actionable roadmap.

For more insights and practical tips from the Agile community, check out the original discussion on Reddit: New intern - how do I clean up a product backlog?

Remember, every seasoned Agile practitioner has been in your shoes at some point. Take a deep breath, dive in, and know that you've got this!

The easiest way to work from anywhere