The Sweet Spot
I arrived at my favorite coffee shop this morning and there were three people waiting in line. I didn’t give this a second thought and got right in line with them. After all, I’m willing to wait a bit for my yummy latte. In fact, I would likely question the quality of the coffee if there wasn’t a line-up. I might even consider finding another more “popular” coffee shop.
On the other hand, if I was to find ten people waiting in line day after day, I might not be so patient. After all, there are several other coffee shops just a few steps away.
Excellent retail shops understand that long line-ups turn customers away and call for more check-out staff as soon as the line-up hits three people. Not too big and not too small – there is a sweet spot when it comes to line ups.
Keeping Them Waiting
We also have a sweet spot when it comes to our backlog. Generally, other people understand that we have other work and can’t take care of their request immediately (assuming it isn’t a crisis). They might be suspicious if we didn’t have other work on the go.
However, we can’t expect people to wait for too long. Our productivity is often measured by our ability to turn work around quickly. Productive people know this and keep their backlog tight.
How big should a backlog be?
There is, without a doubt, a wide range across industries and jobs. That said, I generally recommend that professionals aim for about one to two weeks of backlog. Any more and we start to experience the negative consequences of a big backlog. Of course, less is ideal but the pace and volume of your work may not allow for this.
Just to be clear, our backlog includes our short-term deadlines and commitments. Our backlog does not include the things that we plan to tackle several months from now. It is perfectly acceptable to have a running list of big ideas.
Our backlog is like the store’s line-up and just like the line up at the local coffee shop, we don’t want it to grow too big.
Tighten Your Backlog
If you are struggling to get your backlog under control, I assure you that there is hope. See here for five tips to climbing out from under the backlog.
Once you’ve cleaned up most of your backlog, your focus can shift towards maintaining your tight backlog. Going forward, you only want to commit to new work if you can feasibly fulfill the first task within the next two weeks.
I hope these tips help to inspire you to keep your backlog tight. What is your sweet spot and how do you stick to it?