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Why Agile Isn’t Enough to Fix Your AppDev Backlog

Author: Sambit Ghosh | | August 5, 2020

The agile software development methodology has surged in popularity in recent years—and for good reason. More than 40 percent of companies say that they’re now using agile with their development and IT operations teams. Organizations that have adopted agile cite a wide range of benefits, most notably: greater project visibility, the ability to manage changing priorities, increased business/IT alignment, and faster time to market for deliverables.

But the agile methodology, like any way to develop software, isn’t perfect. This is especially true when it comes to application development backlogs, which seem to plague software teams of all kinds and sizes.

In a 2019 survey, 64 percent of IT professionals said that they have an IT backlog. What’s more, half of teams with an AppDev backlog reported that it was about the same size as it was the previous year, which means that many organizations continue to struggle with an effective solution for these challenges.

The IT research and advisory firm Gartner has outlined 10 principles for agile development, including the need for “documenting, managing, and eliminating technical debt.” Per Gartner: “All development creates technical debt. The difference with agile methods is that technical debt is recognized and added to the backlog, not swept under the carpet.”

Note that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a software backlog, as Gartner alludes to. The real problem is when items languish in your backlog for too long and start to fester, preventing you from releasing valuable updates, features, and bug fixes.

The good news is that the agile methodology employs multiple concepts and practices that can help you empty out your backlog:

  • Agile roadmaps are detailed plans for how a software product will evolve in the short and medium terms, and can include backlog fixes to help you pay off your technical debt.
  • Agile requirements modeling can help your team understand which items in the backlog have the greatest impact on the software’s end users, so that you know how to triage and prioritize your work.
  • Agile sprints are short iterations of the development cycle (usually between 2 to 4 weeks) in which all members collaborate toward a common goal of improving the software.

But despite all the hype, agile isn’t a magic fix for your software development woes. Even if you have an in-house agile development team, cleaning up your AppDev backlog may be a challenge for reasons such as:

  • Not enough capacity: If your team is focused on a high-priority project with an impending deadline, emptying your backlog may fall by the wayside temporarily. But if you’re constantly jumping from project to project, a permanently clogged backlog might become the new normal, because your team simply doesn’t have enough hands on deck.
  • Lack of technical skillset: Cleaning up your AppDev backlog may require specialized technical skills that aren’t available on your team, or are no longer available after a team member’s departure.
  • Budget constraints: Depending on its contents and their importance, the AppDev backlog may not take precedence in your team’s budget.

We’ve discussed why simply calling yourself an agile organization isn’t enough to vacate your AppDev backlog. So what can you start to do about it?

The good news is that the solutions to an overloaded AppDev backlog aren’t out of reach for your team, no matter what resources are available to you. As with most problems, the first step to solving your AppDev backlog issues is to figure out what tools you have at hand. Download our new white paper “6 Ways to Clear Out Your AppDev Backlog Fast” to read about our best practices and recommendations for boosting your agile team’s productivity, as well as the stories of some of Datavail’s clients who became more productive and profitable by cleaning up their backlog.

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