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I am part of an organisation that uses Scrum Agile methodology to develop software solutions. The Scrum Guide defines a 'Product Backlog' in a positive way as a "living artefact" i.e. under perpetual review where items with the most 'value' rise to the top.

However, as an organisation we also get 'work' that ideally we would deal with immediately but often we don't and so it tends to accumulate to the point where it would take a lot of time and effort to clear. People in the organisation use the word 'backlog' in this pejorative sense.

Because 'Product Backlog' is a 'good' term prescribed by Scrum, I want to find another term that better describes the 'bad' accumulation of work.

In many ways 'cancer' is a good fit: procrastination or denial makes treatment more difficult and leads to dire outcomes. However, because we are in the healthcare sector, this isn't appropriate! Also, it doesn't fit the usage e.g. "We have a two-year backlog of blah work right now."

  • The issue here in my opinion is the Scrum terminology. I would say that "backlog" is fairly pejorative, a non-pejorative term would be "pipeline". – AndyT Apr 26 '17 at 9:15
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    @AndyT: Yes, and I often use the term 'roadmap' as an alternative, even though technically the roadmap is less granular and changes less frequently. But I can't change Scrum! – onedaywhen Apr 26 '17 at 10:20
  • A product backlog in Scrum is just a backlog of stuff to do. It is not intrinsically good or bad: good for software engineers to have a job, bad if users are waiting too much for their software features. Similarly, if in a store items need to be backordered because there is a backlog of customer requests this may be good or bad depending on perspective. It's bad if customers need to wait too much; it's good if it's a signal of successful sales. – Pablo Straub Apr 26 '17 at 18:45
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Technical Debt

Depending on the nature of this work, it may be described as technical debt. This refers to work that has to be done to clean up a code base and make it more maintainable.

Technical debt tends to accumulate from the implementation of less-than-optimal solutions to urgent problems, although there can be other sources of technical debt.

For example, if your companies Widget needs to be upgraded for OAuth support, and the engineers have to choose between a refactor and upgrade of the current authorization system which may take a couple weeks, or one engineer installing the plugin into the system and using a different table, then to meet the deadline you may have to deal with having to separate authentication systems which use up double the storage space and require double the work to maintain. Dedicating a few engineers to the problem for a few weeks can resolve the issues, but because the system is technically "working" the way it is now, this work is deprioritized. It tends to linger in the project and this type of pending "clean up" work is called technical debt.

In your sentence: We have a two-year backlog of technical debt right now.

  • Good idea. The organisation has a fairly good understanding of 'technical debt'. – onedaywhen Sep 14 '17 at 10:22
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Logjam.

Commonly used term that connotes negative associations with a buildup of pending items.

So a team member might say, we are unable to address new and potentially more valuable product requests and suggestions, because we have allowed a logjam to build up, which has now become too large to process in way that would allow us to get to newer candidate work items.

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    From the original derivation, a logjam is a blockage in a river that prevents logs from flowing down that river. i.e. A logjam is something (one thing) that can give rise to a backlog. So a team member might say that they (the team) are unable to progress some/any work due to a logjam [preventing the progress of further items in the backlog]. e.g. in SDLC terms, a logjam might be a critical failure in the build automation system or illness taking a significant number of the team out during a sprint. – Deltics Oct 3 '17 at 19:20
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Overdue Work

Overdue giving the impression this is work that should have already been completed, and work because, well it's work.

Overdue (Oxford)

Not having arrived, happened, or been done by the expected time.

For example, taking your sample sentence:

"We have two years of overdue work right now."

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