software inventory and product roadmaps
a list of things you are not allowed to talk about
One of my favorite reads on software development is Joel Spolsky’s 2012 blog post on Software Inventory, which has this excellent advice for product teams…
Do not allow more than a month or two of work to get into the feature backlog list. Once the backlog is full, do not allow new items to be added unless you remove an item. Do not spend any time speccing, designing, or talking about backlog items: the backlog, in fact, should be seen as a list of things you are not allowed to talk about or work on.
I shared Joel’s piece with a startup product team recently, and their response was “Well, what about the roadmap? Are we not allowed to be thinking more than two months ahead?” Which is a totally fair question!
I wasn’t smart enough to say it to them at the time, but I’ll write it down now to remember it later: longer term roadmaps are fine, but do your best to keep them focused on the problems you want to solve for your customers, instead of the features you want to build to solve those problems. This is easier said than done (teams love features!), but it’s a simple hack to keep from building up too much inventory in your backlog.