How many times have you said: “Oh yeah, I forgot about that requirement…” or “I think we talked about that a couple of weeks ago, but nobody added it to the project tracker?”
Here are some indicators that there is work that you need to do that is not captured in your current project management system. They should work well with almost any agile project management system. It’s a good way of finding and capturing latent stories for people on the project to see.
Patterns to watch for
“We need to revisit this in October.” or “We should probably do this at some point.”
Create a story for this item. Regardless of when you revisit the item, it’s nice to visualize the work that you believe you should do at some point. This can be effectively prioritized against the other work. You capture that you have something to do and can plan around it. This is useful in capturing work expansion as it happens.
“This isn’t perfect, but it works for now.”
Add a task to refine whatever the item is. I’m a big fan of progressive enhancement for stories. Get the basic thing done, and then you can add polish later.
“Hmm, that’s a bug, but I don’t want to fix it right now since I’m trying to finish something else.”
You can quickly add this. Put a quick description of where you were, what you did, what you saw and what you expected to see instead. If you want, speculate on what might have caused the problem. Then you can move on knowing it will be taken care of soon.
“I have this crazy idea that I haven’t discussed with the team”
Don’t add this as a story, yet. You’re only cluttering up the backlog, making it less valuable. First discuss it with the team, and if it is something that you plan on getting to soon, you can add it.
A long discussion in the group chat room or an important email
If there are things that pertain to the story that you are working on or will be working on, copy and paste the direct text or a public link to the text that is relevant. If there are other documents or relevant images, link these as well. Especially with the chat room, you are already having these conversations and making decisions, so you might as well put these somewhere so that everyone will see the conversation when in the right context. No need to have the same conversation twice or need to hunt through a long series of emails to get to the relevant information.
I think that this technique should be coupled with good backlog management to ensure that the highest priority items are being done and obsolete stories are being culled. If your backlog is too big, you will waste time and energy just managing it. Consider trimming it aggressively. Any truly important things will keep coming back.
I find that cultivating this practice ensures that the team communicates well and everyone knows about how much important work remains to be done. There’s much less “oh yeah, I forgot to include you on that conversation.” It makes the ephemeral more concrete, and leads to people trusting that what is in the system is very close to what actually needs to be done.
When do you add something to your list of things to do? When do you wait to add something?