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As a product owner, can I completely remove a story from the Product Backlog?

I know everybody can add stories at anytime to the product backlog, but is the PO's only way to remove a story to put it at the bottom of the stack, or can he/she simply remove it from the backlog?

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You can do whatever you need to do, however removing stories is not advisable unless they are either wrong, duplicates or obsolete. The reason is that it takes time to write a story, and for you to read it and prioritize it.

Having a story you think is very low (or no-) priority at the bottom of the pile still has a value because it theoretically prevents new duplicates from being presented.

On the other hand, there's usually no cost in not removing a story.

  • And the PO is the one deciding that the story is "either wrong, duplicates or obsolete" ? – phadaphunk May 14 '14 at 18:01
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    Of course, the PO is responsible for user stories (thus, for making a wrong call as well!) ;-) – Sklivvz May 14 '14 at 18:17
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    I disagree with this completely. Nothing is worse than a backlog with 5000000 stories on it, 99% of which will never, ever be implemented. Complete waste of everyone's time to keep discussing, thinking about, and prioritizing against pointless stories. There is almost always a cost for not removing a story. The longer your backlog, the more likely you are to succumb to feature bloat during downtime. – Andrew Clear May 20 '14 at 20:14
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    I agree with the disagreement! As Fernando points out in his answer, stories in the backlog are inventory and do carry a cost to manage them. Removing stories that will never get done both reduces this cost and acts as a point for communication with stakeholders. – Ben May 21 '14 at 10:22
  • "Removing stories [which are] wrong, duplicates or obsolete" would certainly not leave you with a lot 5 million stories. Please re-read my answer. – Sklivvz May 23 '14 at 13:18
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The Product Owner is the absolute owner of the Product Backlog. As such, he/she has the last word on what goes in, stays in, or gets out of it.

I wouldn't recommend to keep stories in the backlog "just in case." True, there is a cost associated with creating a story, but each item in the backlog will have to be maintained, reviewed, reprioritized, etc. and that represents a cost as well (in lean thinking, it's "inventory", and considered a waste.) I'll argue that the cognitive load of all that work is significantly higher than the creation cost (unless, of course, a lot of effort is spent specifying and detailing the work items, but that's a separate problem in itself.) Ultimately, if something is important enough, it will come back at the appropriate time.

All that being said, it's possible that in your particular situation you might feel that, as a PO, you don't have the final authority to remove items from your Product Backlog. Many organizations declare their Business Analysts to be Product Owners, but they don't give them full authority over the Backlog (and the project in general.) If that's your situation, then think who in your project organization has that final say about what goes in and out of the backlog, who can decide on the project direction, who is the "single throat to choke" if the project goes south; that person is really the Product Owner.

  • Fantastic answer - pragmatic and realistic – Venture2099 Dec 16 '14 at 7:26
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Generally speaking, the PO can choose to add, remove or re-prioritise stories in the product backlog as they see fit.

That said, it shouldn't just be gut feel. A good PO will be talking to stakeholders, looking at usage stats, user research etc to decide which stories are not valuable enough to deliver.

They should also make sure that when stories are removed from the backlog altogether, people who are hoping for that change or feature are kept informed.

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The best explanation for Product Owner can be found in the below video, which talks about how to do planning and prioritizing of stories. A must watch for every.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=502ILHjX9EE

The summary of the video is:

  • PO knows the vision of the product, why the product is being built and whats the problem domain
  • Knows the stakeholders and/or the end users
  • Is the communicator between the Stakeholders, users and the team

  • So in summary, PO works with the team to "build the right thing" which means:

    • The most important tool at his disposal is the ability to say "No" to feature requests that won't provide value and "put them in the trash bin".
    • Prioritises the Product Backlog by balancing the following risks:
      • Cost and Schedule
      • Technical Risk(s)
      • Business Risks

Agile In Nutshell - Diagram

To answer the question, yes, the product owner can remove stories from the backlog and should regularly do so in order to make sure the backlog stays focused on providing the most value to stakeholders.

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    +1 because I love this video, but can you explain in more detail how this video helps to answer his question. Maybe summarize the relevant part. – Niels van Reijmersdal Dec 15 '14 at 13:52
  • @NielsvanReijmersdal Updated the comment with the summary and a diagram of the same. – leenasn Dec 15 '14 at 17:48
  • Hey leenasn, I edited this to include also that the video answers the question by saying that the product owner can and should remove items from the backlog. On Stack Exchange, we want the answers to be in the post body. The YouTube video is awesome, but we don't want people to have to spend 15 minutes just to get an answer to the question. Please feel free to edit further to put in your own words. Hope this helps. – jmort253 Jun 18 '15 at 14:37
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    Thank you @jmort253 for the edit. Yes, I missed to answer the original question. I assumed it's clear with the comment "Build the right thing". – leenasn Jun 18 '15 at 14:42
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    Since our answers target not just the original asker but also the thousands of visitors with the same question, being explicit is always best. Thanks again for taking the time to write up the summary and for including that great YouTube find! – jmort253 Jun 18 '15 at 14:44

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