Can you Create Flow without Managing the Backlog ?

So here we sit, the team and I – with a lovely Kanban board with queues and flow and everything we need to stop starting and start finishing – only it doesn’t seem to be working smoothly. So I turn up my listening and there, hidden beneath the words is something really interesting – we keep on coming back to change!

We can’t start testing because there are changes still coming. What changes ? Where are they ? Are they important ? Who are they important to ? Where are they coming from ?

Turns out, we don’t really know! Which means we don’t really know when to stop working on this set of use cases and start to work on new one’s because the way we have always worked is to go round and round, perfecting the use case, adding changes no matter where they come from, no matter how valueless they might be.

I can see how this is created –  if you can’t see what is next up why would you finish what you have right now ? If you can’t see how much is left to be done and what absolutely has to be done, why stop working on what you have right now ? We have created a culture where teams need to be busy, they need to be billable.

After 10 months of analysis the team and the business still don’t really know what they want. After 20 years in software development I am not really surprised, because invariably you find out what is needed when you build it and start to use it – which is a problem in waterfall, because that is when you are out of time and money.

So what now ? Well now we create a mechanism where we can get clarity on what is needed and what is valuable. We get to explore grooming of the backlog and risk profiles (thanks David Anderson) and I can’t wait to see what happens.

I am already imagining a team where delivery happens on stable, clear features that have been selected in the last week or two by the business, where everyone can see why these have been selected and can see what needs to still be done to build a product that now only delights customers, but Wows them and allows us to steal customers. A space where change is embraced and welcomed and we are delivering value to customers frequently.

What techniques are you using to get that infinite, ever changing backlog under control ? How are your teams choosing between features and replenishing their delivery flows ?