Project Management

Project Backlog Out of Hand? Here’s How to Restore Sanity

Joe leads software engineering organizations and cross-functional teams to help them create better outcomes.

We’ve all been there. The backlog of projects and never-ending list of things to do far outpaces the capacity of the teams to deliver on them. Pressure comes from leadership to commit to everything. It’s all of the highest priority, according to them. Nobody wants to make any sacrifices or tradeoffs.

Political fiefdoms abound, and executives are at war with each other. Cooperation is scarce. Project teams on the ground are living through hell—with unreasonable expectations placed on them, they are burning out and turning over at record pace. This only makes the problem worse.

The result of all this chaos is that nothing gets done—teams are pulled in one direction one day, and a completely different direction the next. It’s no wonder they are confused and struggling to execute.

What is a program manager to do? Here are some tips I used when I found myself in this situation at one of the largest software companies in the world.

1. The first step in situations like this is to get the lay of the land as it exists at the time. Become the expert on what is happening where, when, with who, and why. The project backlog has become a dumping ground. It is full of poorly defined, half-baked ideas, and reads more like an impossible wish list than a realistic roadmap teams could actually execute against.

Your goal here is to extract the signal …

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"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no use being a damned fool about it."

- W. C. Fields