How to deal with the ever-growing backlog


13

I'm a one-man company, and a couple of months ago I shipped version 1.0 of my product after a year of beta testing. So far it has been successful; the product is selling and the customer base is growing, which is fantastic.

I manage my backlog publicly using Trello, so people can see the backlog of ideas, the current sprint, and what has been completed. Every morning, I wake up, check my email, and there are five new suggestions for features/changes to the product. I'm lucky to complete one or two per day, so the backlog is growing faster than I can get through it.

The suggestions range from:

  • Really awesome ideas I never would have thought of
  • Interesting ideas, which are at odds with where I want to take the product (e.g., a complicated feature to support a rare use case).
  • Small changes, like being able to re-order a table

All of these are important, and I feel very lucky that so many people are suggesting ways to improve the product. But managing the suggestions is becoming difficult. During the beta process, I had a forum for people to make suggestions, and I added them to the backlog so people could track the suggestion. That process seemed to work well when the number of suggestions wasn't too high. Now, I feel like I'm drinking from a fire hose.

  1. Is this a problem I should just "get used to" now that I am managing a product, or is there something that can be done about it?
  2. Is it productive to reply to each suggestion with "thanks, I've added it to the backlog", or should I be honest and tell them the feature won't get done until 2381 at the earliest? How do you thank people for their suggestion without getting their hopes up that it will be implemented?
  3. Should each suggestion go directly to the backlog, or should I use a completely different system (maybe something like Uservoice) to capture suggestions, and only move them to the backlog if they are really going to be implemented in a reasonable timeframe? Is my process wrong?

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asked Jul 27 '12 at 23:03
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Anonforthis
66 points
  • What is the percentage of free vs paid subscribers? How many requests come from free users vs paid users? – Jim Galley 7 years ago

3 Answers


14

Few advices:

Hide the "wish list" from public eyes. This is for your eyes only. No need for competitors to be able to latch onto your feed of good ideas from your own customers. Furthermore - it creates expectations of implementation for every item there that you do not have the capacity to fulfill. Treat the input from your users as a raw list from which you pick-and-choose items to build roadmaps. Roadmaps can be published once you finalize them.

Also, It is not written in stone that you have to implement every idea you get, even good ones, in the order you got them. You should use the ideas as input and assign priority to ideas based on how good you think they are, how urgent they are to your growth and also how much an idea weighs (one requestor? two? twenty?).

So, to sum it up

  • Input from users goes to private idea repository
  • You track those ideas and rank them based on quality and weight
  • Build roadmaps with clear allocation what goes into each future release
  • Publish roadmaps (optional)
  • implement roadmaps.

Good luck.

answered Jul 28 '12 at 02:55
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Ron M.
4,224 points
  • Brilliant answer. Spot on. – Tosh 6 years ago

3

It's great that you're getting so much feedback from your users. Getting feature suggestions is a good indicator that customers care for your product. Congratulations :-)

In reply to your questions:

  1. Yes, this is normal. Not only do you need to get used to it, you should also start to lay out a simple process for innovation management - right now! Your customers are an important source for ideas, don't let this potential go to waste.
  2. Replying makes your customers feel good and their input appreciated. Make sure you are not sending a standard text block but take the time to explain them what will happen to their idea. You have to decide anyway, so do it as early as possible. Explaining how you are going to proceed will also help you think about your decision more thoroughly and document it. You
  3. You shouldn't move every idea to the backlog. While an idea doesn't need to be perfectly detailed, there are certain minimum criteria the idea should meet before you consider moving it to the backlog.

Ok, so why did I highlight innovation management in the above paragraph? Well, that's exactly what you have a problem with right now. Your old process has served you well, but now it's time to change it. There's no reason to do anything fancy with crazy scoring models and the like, you should keep it small and simple. But you need to be clear on this. Here's a few tips from the top of my head.

  1. Define your product vision. The vision entails the problem you set out to solve, your customer archetype (or segments) and their needs and how your software does create value for them. You can also try to describe the identity and key characteristics of your product (e.g. asthetic, efficient, painless).
  2. When a new idea arrives, do some basic checks. Have you already received similar ideas (duplicate)? Is it clear what the customer wants? Is it realistic?
  3. So you have received a great new idea. Is it consistent with the product vision?
  4. Rigorously prioritize and groom your backlog. Ideas lingering in the backlog for more than a few months can be considered unimportant and should be trashed. Really. If they are important, they will come up again.
  5. Keep your backlog consistent. The backlog shouldn't contain conflicting features. If one method of data export is enough
  6. You are the product owner. It's your business, you decide on the direction you want the product to take.
  7. Don't get trapped. Your customer aren't the only source of ideas. You should have your own strategy laid out too. And you take a different view point. Customers often don't really know what they need. (They might want a plier when they really need a hammer).
  8. Communicate carefully. Avoid setting expectations you can't meet. Having a public trello board is a great way for your customers to track the status of their ideas and how they rank against others. Don't commit to delivery dates.
  9. Be open for opportunities. Even if you receive ideas that don't match your current vision, they might open up new opportunities you haven't thought of. Be prepared to adjust your vision, it's not carved in stone.
answered Jul 29 '12 at 03:17
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Johannes Rudolph
348 points

1

I read this post once by a famous startup (37 signals, I think - but not sure).
They had a similar problem in which they were barraged with feature requests - and the way they handled it was to just forget about it until a particular request was being repeatedly asked multiple times.

I think making the list private and replying with a simple "thanks! I've put it in the queue" should be good and you can put a +1 everytime a similar request is made.

Once a feature has reached a particular threshold of +1s, it could go into the actual implementation queue.

However, you must realise that many times, users will send a feature request and not really care about if it is really important to them or how much time it would take the developers to implement something. So its just best to prioritize things and understand that some of those features will never make it to the final product.

Many congratulations on your successful product!

answered Aug 4 '12 at 04:19
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Saurabhj
313 points

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