Delete Your Product Backlog. Do this Instead!

It is springtime, and it is time to do some spring cleaning!

👋 Hello, welcome to the Startup Hustle! I’m your guide, Matt Watson. I share weekly tips from my 20+ years of startup founder experience and stories from other entrepreneurs from the Startup Hustle podcast.

It is springtime, and it is time to do some spring cleaning!

If you have worked with a software development team for any length of time, you know what a product backlog is and that it is usually where ideas go to die.

On top of it being the list of stuff you will never do, people dedicate crazy amounts of time grooming the list of things you won’t do.  

Today, I will share my ideas on how to properly manage a backlog and provide other tips for product planning and roadmapping.

The Pitfalls of Backlogs

Let's face it: backlogs are essential, but they suck.

They serve as a repository for the work we plan to tackle in the future.

But here's the catch: we rarely get around to doing most of it.

Backlogs have a tendency to spiral out of control, accumulating dozens or even hundreds of work items. It seems like every idea ever conceived by anyone in the company finds its way into the backlog.

It is like having your desk covered in sticky notes.

Which sticky notes are important? All or none of them?

To make matters worse, some teams dedicate countless hours and meetings to "grooming" the backlog and sorting through items we may never actually work on.

The Radical Solution: Delete the Backlog

Brace yourself because I'm about to propose a bold idea…

You can delete the backlog.

Yes, you read that right. And guess what? It doesn't even matter.

Before you recoil in horror, hear me out.

If a work item is truly important, the idea will resurface.

Your team's and customers' best ideas will come back. Those persistent bugs will be reported again.

In theory, everything of value will eventually come back to you. 

It's akin to burning every science book in the world—eventually, all those scientific discoveries would be made again.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you permanently delete your backlog.

I’m not completely crazy. Export it to Excel first. 🤣

Then delete that thing!!!

If your backlog is a giant mess, you seriously need to get all the junk out of the way so you can focus on what matters.

The backlog should primarily consist of work that is actively being tackled or planned for the immediate future, spanning the next few weeks.

“One day maybe” items do not go in the backlog.

Everything else should reside in your product plan or idea list.

Crafting a Product Plan

To truly excel in product development, you need a product plan that is distinct from your backlog.

Personally, I'm a big fan of JIRA's new product discovery projects. They are wonderfully simple. JIRA provides a dedicated space to gather and prioritize your product ideas, allowing you to plan at a higher level above the granular details of individual JIRA tickets.

Product planning involves focusing on critical aspects such as effort vs. value, roadmap planning, and product goals.

The more strategic and forward-thinking your planning is, the better. I highly recommend using a simple "Now, Next, Later" framework for your plan.

The Power of "Now, Next, Later"

Instead of getting bogged down in specific timelines, adopt a simple approach using the buckets of "Now," "Next," and "Later."

  • Now: This category represents the work your team is currently focused on. It typically includes tasks to be completed within the current or upcoming sprint or roughly within the next 30 days.

  • Next: This bucket contains work that requires planning and preparation. It encompasses tasks you aim to tackle 30-90 days from now.

  • Later: This category is for work that doesn't have a definite timeline. Some teams prefer to call this "Someday" instead of "Later."

Feel free to customize the definitions and timeline of these buckets to suit your company's specific needs and preferences.

This simplistic planning approach is beautiful because it is flexible and easy to use.

The Backlog is Not a Planning Tool

One of the most common mistakes teams make is using the backlog for planning and prioritization.

Just because you have a list of hundreds of backlog items, it doesn't mean any of them are strategic priorities for the company.

Too many teams think all the random and horrible ideas from months ago in the backlog are somehow the priority for the next sprint.


So, what are the strategic priorities?

You already know them!!!

  • The three things you wake up thinking about every day.

  • The topics that dominate every management meeting.

  • The feedback you consistently receive from existing customers and during sales demos.

Your backlog of old random ideas from months ago clogs up and prevents you from working on your actual strategic priorities.

Your strategic priorities should be at the forefront of your product plan, not the random tickets logged by every developer and project manager in the company. Sure, some of these tickets may be important bugs or maintenance projects.

Product planning should be conducted at a higher strategic product level.

How to Manage Ideas

In addition to the backlog, it's common to have a multitude of random ideas floating around. These ideas can be placed in a parking lot or on your "Later" list.

You can incorporate them into your product planning list or use dedicated tools to gather ideas from customers and allow them to contribute to product ideation. In the past, I've utilized platforms like UserVoice or Aha's idea portal for this purpose.

However, it's important to note that customer feedback often gets overlooked as other priorities take precedence. I recommend using external customer idea portals only if you are committed to actively listening to and implementing those ideas.

Here are some potential places to track ideas:

  • Issue tracking software: JIRA, GitHub Issues, Trello, etc.

  • Project management tools: Asana, Monday, Basecamp, etc.

  • Note-taking apps: Notion, OneNote, Evernote, etc.

  • Spreadsheets: Sometimes, good old Excel is still the best option.

Ideas are ideas. It doesn't mean you are going to do them. They are not part of the product plan or the backlog of actual work to do.


The key takeaway from this blog post is to prevent your backlog from becoming a colossal mess.

You can’t let everyone’s ideas make it into the backlog, which becomes the sole source of your priorities.

Stop wasting valuable time managing work items that will never see the light of day or won't be tackled in the near future. Grooming work that you won't actually do is a nonsensical endeavor.

Shift your focus to intentional product planning.

By implementing a structured approach to product planning, utilizing frameworks like "Now, Next, Later," and maintaining a separate idea list, you can streamline your development process and ensure that your team is consistently working on the most impactful and strategic initiatives.

Remember, the backlog is not the be-all and end-all of product development. It's merely a tool to help you organize and track work (you will actually do).

Make sure you are using a separate tool for product planning above the mess of your developers' day-to-day work. Stay out of the weeds.

It is also time for spring cleaning.

Will you take my challenge of exporting the backlog and starting with a clean slate?

Who is Matt Watson?
Join 45,000 others, and follow me on LinkedIn. I am also the host of the Startup Hustle podcast, which you can listen to on any podcast app or YouTube.

I’m the CEO of Full Scale. We help companies scale up their development teams with top talent from the Philippines at a 60% savings.

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