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My IT backlog just keeps growing – what should I do?

The to-do list, or as IT professionals call it – the backlog. The place where you take just one glance and think, “we’re never gonna finish this.”

In most cases, you’re probably right. How can you finish a list of to-dos when newer, higher-priority work keeps piling on? 

In this blog, we’ll look into:

  • Why backlogs get too big

  • What problems they cause

  • And how to manage them

Why do backlogs get so big?

  • Advanced planning: To keep the budget and resourcing under control, enterprises love to plan ahead. But, this means they often deal with a backlog of 3-12 months for planned IT projects.1 The problem is, once they get around to tackling a project that’s been in the backlog for a while, it might not be needed anymore, or stakeholder requirements have changed.

  • Lack of collaboration: 29% of IT decision-makers said that when it comes to achieving digital objectives, the inadequate collaboration between IT and non-IT teams is a blocker1.

  • Siloed knowledge: Organizations want processes to be updated, but they're either undocumented or only understood by certain people in the organization, like process owners. So mapping them out and understanding the logic behind them takes a lot of heavy lifting before they can even be tackled by IT, which is a daunting task.

  • Lack of digital maturity: Organizations that lack digital maturity are likely to have outdated or legacy systems and processes. Coupled with inadequate resourcing and skill sets, more ends up in the backlog.

How to manage your backlog

No matter how much backlog grooming and organizing a team does, everyone’s backlog still seems like a big mountain to climb2.

Here are some ways your organization can reframe how it views the backlog to have more projects launch:

Think about value

Think about what problems you’re solving and who will benefit from them.

  • What value will tackling this project bring to the business and its customers/employees?

  • How will you measure success? Maybe you can measure internal resource hours saved or how digitizing a process increased X number of submissions.

Focus on projects that have a fast time-to-value and leave the smaller ones for business teams. Once you take time to understand the bigger picture of the business and how the project fits into it, you can identify the projects that are essential for success.

And, if you still need help, involve stakeholders and team members in the decision-making process.

Have IT and business teams collaborate

Siloed teams distributed within organizations have increasingly made their own choices over new tools, technologies, and digital strategies.

But when IT and business teams work closely, they can identify and prioritize tasks, develop a timeline for completion, and assign resources. For example, business teams can take on some of the tasks traditionally taken on by IT teams, freeing up time for more technical tasks to be completed by IT resources.

This collaboration ensures the backlog is comprehensive, up-to-date, properly aligned with the business objectives, and, most importantly, is completed.

Don’t wait for an overhaul

You don’t have to wait for legacy IT to be overhauled, after all, that could take years. Instead, work with it by implementing technology that layers on top of your existing solutions.

This approach will allow your organization to deliver on new digitization projects while preparing for a large system change. Remember to future-proof the solution for what you’re planning to deliver tomorrow so that these solutions grow with you.

Empower teams to build their own solutions

  • Let those involved closest to the processes you’re updating sit at the table and have them provide input on what they think should be fixed. For example, instead of having banking customers set up a meeting with an advisor at a branch to change an account beneficiary, a business team can build a robust digital solution that would enable customers to self-serve and make the change on their own. This is a win-win: the bank saves on resources and customers get a seamless experience.

  • Focus on transforming rules-based processes that are usually low-frequency, circumstantial, and not part of larger digital transformation initiatives. These processes are often paper-based, require a lot of data collection, and create data silos that don’t meet compliance regulations. 

  • Use technology solutions that business teams across the organization can use themselves. Focus on ones that allow business users to map out each point of a process with built-in logic and decision trees and that can generate documents, or send data where it needs to go.
Just cutting won’t cut it

You can follow the traditional way of trimming your backlog, but remember, those updates, bug fixes, and requests were there for a reason. 

Without properly empowering your team and having your business users to help build the required digital solutions, your backlog (and the requesting stakeholders) will come back to haunt you.

Back of person sitting at a desk, working on their laptop.

Sources and credits

1IT’s changing mandate in an age of disruption, The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2021

2What is backlog grooming?, ProductBoard

3IT’s changing mandate in an age of disruption, The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2021