Have you heard of email bankruptcy? Consider backlog bankruptcy.
Let's you and me have a conversation.
Your backlog is on index cards on the wall, right? You have a WIP limit for all stages of work. You've even decided to recycle the cards so you have laminated them and you write your stories on the plastic, then wipe them clean at the end. You have a hard limit of 12 cards in cycle at any time. Have I got the current situation right?
I'm wrong? Sorry. Silly of me to assume. How do you manage your backlog?
Oh, you use a digital tool to manage your backlog. How many items on it?
Can you say that again; how many? How long have you been running as a team? Wow. That's a lot of tickets.
At your current rate of taking on new backlog items and in getting things done how long would it take you to get everything cleared and get to a zero backlog?
Sure, you will never do a bunch of stuff. And some things will be resolved by resolving others. Do you know which ones? yes, I know it will talk a while to sift through everything. I agree. your time is probably better spent on other things.
What do you think your goals are for the yer ahead? Can you articulate it in a paragraph or two? Can you break that down into this half of the year and next half?
What about the next 3 months versus the three after?
And how much of your time do you think you need for the unexpected? Bugs, urgent requests and so on? What did the trend look like last year?
So you have a fair sense of the goals for the quarters and year ahead. And with maybe a bit of work you can factor in 'uncertain work. (Maybe you should think about the percent of unplanned or unaligned work you do. There may be an opportunity there.)
Let me back up a bit. Let's talk about stakeholders and the backlog.
Where do your backlog items come from? Sure there is the Product Owner, but where do they source their information? Who cares about what goes on the backlog? How influential are they? What are the broad categories of work coming in?
What do they think about the backlog items that are way down the list in limbo and probably never going to be addressed? What would happen if you just deleted everything?
Could you chunk all the things up into larger buckets? Go back to that concept of detailed planning for the week ahead and very high level for the year ahead?
What's holding you back? Is it the notes associated with the tickets and cards? Do they really stand up as useful?
Go on. Delete everything that isn't in the month ahead. See how freeing it is.
(And if you are chicken, maybe you could just move the team across to a new backlog and archive the one you have instead of deleting it.)