What are some examples of really good backlogs?

Answer by Yee Lee:

Remember: the purpose of a backlog story is just to cause the right conversations between team members.  So, it's difficult for an outsider to gauge the "goodness" of a backlog just by looking at the story headlines. 

In some cases, 1-liner story could be all you need to remind team members of a whiteboard conversation they had.  Usually, though, you'll see a lot of back and forth interaction between team members while they groom a story as it moves up the backlog.  E.g., if you follow a backlog over several sprints, you should see:

  1. A story starts off in the Icebox or low down in the Backlog as a 1-liner or a very simple description of the desired user experience
  2. As the story moves up towards the top of the Backlog, you may see, mocks/attachments, implementation notes or sub-tasks get added to the story — indicating that the development team has been grooming the story and thinking about how to implement it
  3. Ideally, the conversation about "how" will feedback into the "what" of the story and you may notice that stories with broad scopes get broken down into multiple smaller stories that will each get prioritized.
  4. By the time a story gets close to the top of the Backlog, it should meet a few criteria:
  • Granular enough that a single individual can implement, e.g., no intra-team dependencies for a single story.
  • Developers have discussed/groomed sufficiently so that they understand exactly what needs to be done, e.g., if you ask multiple team members what the story is about, you'll get identical answers
  • Each development team member has a good enough idea of how they would implement the story that they can give a confident estimate.  Side note on story estimation: development team members typically are pretty good at estimating story points up to the equivalent of a day's worth of work.  Any points estimate that indicates multiple days of work should be taken as a red flag of story uncertainty.  High-performing teams will take the time to do multiple rounds of estimation, breaking down stories until they all fit under a low points-ceiling.

Here are a couple public examples of backlogs for on-going, active projects…

Jasmine JS:

The agile backlog used to build the Jira Agile app (how meta):
JIRA Agile (formerly GreenHopper)

And if you google around for "public backlog" (in quotes), you'll find other examples.

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