Why You Should Burn Your Backlog and Concentrate on Throughput

Mary Poppendieck, co-author of the classic Lean Software Development book, says backlogs are a sign of an inefficient team. But that’s OK. 

In a recent article at The New Stack, Jennifer Riggins summarized a presentation from Poppendieck for Agile Tour London along with a follow-up conversation, noting that Poppendieck says “since the output is almost always measured consistently by almost every organization, and that output is reasonably consistent over releases, that’s your only metric that matters.”  

“Every single software organization can take a look at the number of units of things they put into production in a window of time. I’ve never met one that can’t,” says Poppendieck. And, “once you’ve established your current output rate, then you have to stop accepting anything beyond that rate. No backlog.”

Poppendieck also emphasized that an individual or team’s output rate should never be treated as a performance metric, Riggins writes. “It is an insult to teams to assume that they are not working as hard as they can, so if demand exceeds capacity, a team’s output should be assumed to be its current capacity,” Poppendieck said.

Concentrating on flow is a way to prevent overloading—and eventual burnout, Riggins writes, adding that Poppendieck says, “you just have to be ready to say Yes or No, right as things are being added to your plate.”

You always can save space for emergencies, Poppendieck says, but fundamentally, you have only three options:

  • Now
  • Next
  • Never

Read the complete article and watch the video at The New Stack.