Placeholders in backlogs

Last post 04:09 pm October 28, 2019
by John Varela II
4 replies
11:50 am October 25, 2019

Hi there,

This is my first post on the forum.

I am a Product Owner (with just a couple of years of Scrum experience) who has recently joined a new organisation that has been practicing Scrum for circa 10 years.

The backlog I have inherited contains a number of tickets with little or no detail (one of them contains only 3 words). Upon querying these I was told they are "placeholders" and that further detail would be added in time for sprint refinement. Some people in the team know exactly what the placeholders are about but others are as confused as I am.

I was wondering if anyone has ever encountered placeholders in a backlog before and whether you think this is acceptable practice? It seems to be common in this organisation.



08:38 pm October 25, 2019

Well, it is a good practice for Work "to be done" to become more clear over time, and ready to be worked on in a sprint.

So in essence, I do not see anything wrong with the approach, since it is one of the ways to eliminate waste.

That said, in my opinion, even at the highest level, PBIs should be clear enough (clear like in a human understandable sentence) to be of any value. In the end it is all about transparency, and when people are confused, it is in general a good approach to add transparency ;)

So, if your product bcaklog is about an ecommerce platform, and your placeholder reads "add shopping basket", that would be fine by me if it is there for some future sprint not needed to be refined just yet. If it would say "improve application" yout might get a lot of eyebrows raised, and maybe it shoudl be added which part or which improvement is needed...


06:07 am October 26, 2019

A Product Backlog item is sometimes written as a User Story, which can be thought of as a placeholder for a conversation about a potential requirement. However, A PBI should always have a description, a value, an order, and an estimate. Are the “placeholders” you refer to well-formed as PBIs?

12:07 pm October 28, 2019

Some people in the team know exactly what the placeholders are about but others are as confused as I am.

Maybe the first paragraph in the scum guide explaining the Product Backlog can give advise on what to do:

"The Product Backlog is an ordered list of everything that is known to be needed in the product. It is the single source of requirements for any changes to be made to the product. The Product Owner is responsible for the Product Backlog, including its content, availability, and ordering."

04:09 pm October 28, 2019

Placeholders are fine to use as long as there is an agreement to input the missing data in a reasonably short turnaround. If the folks doing the work know the details but are too busy at the moment to provide them, they should also know they are preventing the Product Owner from maintaining the backlog appropriately. They should collaborate to determine what the Product Owner considers to be minimum context in order for them to be effective.