How can I resolve a huge backlog of over 1,000 man-days without blocking new change requests?

  • Context

    As new and junior product owner have to deal with a backlog made now of 33 changes and and effort of 1000 man-days - mind that I act as product owner, but I am not in IT department and I have no leverages on IT.
    We ended up in this situation because there is not enough budget/capacity to manage both BAU and the major project consisting into the replacement of our CRM tool.

    It was decided by business to sacrifice and slow down till a complete freeze the BAU. Of course, business is anyway complaining now, after their own decision because they see no changes delivered.

    We use an internal IT factory, although some changes on our CRM tool are left to the vendor and require just business and functional analysis from our side.

    The backlog receives in average 3.3 new requests per month with an average effort of 34.5 man-days. The system is young and still unripe, so it is reasonable to expect this rate of request for at least 12/24 months minimum.

    We have a restricted budget of 400 man-days per year with no chances of increase.

    My action plan

    What I would do and will propose to business is:

    1. review thoroughly the list of changes requested and do a costs/benefits evaluation to cut off all is pointless
    2. List item re-define priorities for the remaining changes in the list
    3. define the "pace" and quantity of deliverables IT can work on based on their real capacity
    4. All new changes coming eventually, must be re-prioritized in the backlog (this we already do).
    5. I will tighten up the approval of new requests (left to a CAB) becoming more strict and demanding complete business cases and financial analysis.

    Any other suggestion is welcome. I am sorry if this question of mine is not strictly related to Project Management, but I am sure that best practices from that field can suite my needs, and managing BAU is quite like managing a huge project 🙂

  • Increase Resources or Set Expectations Lower

    I'm not sure what your actual question is, because from a project management perspective you have only three core sliders (also known as the "iron triangle") that you can adjust:

    1. Cost
    2. Schedule
    3. Scope

    What you seem to be talking about is scope management as the adjustable slider, which you can tune to accommodate current budgetary and scheduling constraints. So, yes: if you can't increase budget or extend schedule, the only lever left is removing scope to fit within your other constraints.

    From a planning standpoint, you'll need to aggressively prune or de-prioritize incoming requests because because they're entering the system at roughly 342% of your annualized time/labor budget, e.g.:

    # Convert `hrs/req * reqs/mo * mos/yr / annual_budget` to a percentage.
    Integer((((34.5 * 3.3) * 12) / 400).round(2) * 100) #=> 342

    As a practical matter, than means you're taking in more work each year than you can perform in three years! That's obviously unsustainable, so something has to give. If the business won't increase your budget or resources, then a Product Owner should guide them into determining what they're willing to give up to live within their self-imposed constraints.

    Whether you prune existing backlog or new backlog doesn't change the math here. Either cut work down to fit the organization's constraints, or increase the project's budget/capacity for work. There is no realistic third option.

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