How to Manage Your Product Backlog with an Icebox

Less is a good thing. – Jason Fried

The Product Backlog

In Scrum the product backlog is a list of user stories describing your products desired functionality.

Resource constraints prevent your team from working on every feature your customer requests.

These constraints force you to keep your product simple, by keeping features to a minimum. Focus on the core product and make it great. Then provide the functionality that you can afford to based on your resources.

In any project tasks fall into one of three categories:

  1. Stuff you have to do – These items should go into the product backlog.
  1. Stuff you want to do – these items depending on their priority can go either in the icebox or the backlog.
  1. Stuff you could do – You should either discard these items, or add them to the icebox.

Think of the big picture, and focus on the core product. Don’t get side tracked by things that don’t matter.

A typical Scrum backlog consists of the following:

  1. Features
  2. Bugs
  3. Technical tasks
  4. Learning

The Icebox

An icebox is where you add new user stories before they make it into the product backlog. It helps to keep your product backlog clean and organized. Think of it as a placeholder for tasks that you are not sure that you are going to work on.

Tasks that are good candidates for inclusion in the icebox are:

Requested features that do not fit into the product roadmap.

Low priority bugs

Good ideas that might add value to the product, but don’t map to your road map.

An example of a simple, lean and efficient Scrum board with an Icebox. :


Scrum Workflow

NOTE: Current serves as the current Sprint backlog, and backlog is the product backlog.

Pruning the Icebox

You create new user stories faster than you can work on them. As a result the icebox can grow, requiring a periodic pruning. This Pruning consists of removing dated, unused user stories from the Icebox.

You can archive these unused stories into a Google Docs spreadsheet shared with the team.

Icebox pruning can take place during sprint planning sessions. Decide what to remove from the icebox, what to add to the product backlog and what to work on in the current sprint.

The goal is to keep no more than 10 items in the icebox at any given moment.


By adding the icebox concept to your scrum workflow, you can focus on those tasks that matter and consistently deliver products that your customers will love.











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