5S for the product backlog

5S is the name of a workplace organization method that uses a list of five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. Transliterated into English, they all start with the letter “S”. The list describes how to organize a work space for efficiency and effectiveness by identifying and storing the items used, maintaining the area and items, and sustaining the new order. The decision-making process usually comes from a dialogue about standardization, which builds understanding among employees of how they should do the work.

Here’s another perspective how the above 5S technique is applied in maintaining the product backlog.


What does this mean: Remove from the workplace all items that are not needed for current production (or office) operation.

  • Sorting means leaving only the bare necessities
  • When in doubt, throw it away

How it’s applied: Remove the outdated items from the backlog, keeping is clean and relevant. This helps in productive discussion with focus on relevant (high priority) stories and picking the right stuff by the developments teams during sprint planning. ‘Sort’ and ‘Sustain’ both works hand-in- hand.

 “Set in Order”

What does this mean: Arranging needed items so that they are readily accessible and labelled so that anyone can find them or put them away.

How it’s applied: Dependencies, hierarchy and relationship/linkages between stories/ backlog are identified and marked well for reference. Digitally storing and sorting with the help of ALM tools helps having the right metadata approach helps in ordering and sequencing real time by anyone in scrum team to get different perspectives based on metadata. This helps further to manage the dependencies more efficiently during execution E.g. digital designer likes to know if any design that he is doing should be done considering dependencies so that known re-work can be avoided, if any in future. In a way reducing the tech-debt.


 What does this mean: Sweep and clean the work area. The key purpose is to keep everything in top condition so that when someone needs to use something, it is ready to be used. Cleaning a work area produces and opportunity to visually inspect equipment, tooling, materials and work conditions.

 How it’s applied: Stories churned out of backlog grooming should shine’, meaning should have all the relevant details – uncluttered, ease of use, testability conditions, acceptance criteria, etc., in one word ‘ensure completeness’ of the stories by providing all relevant details. Stakeholders should participate; discuss its implementation details ensuring stories are in ‘shine’ condition. Shine condition implies story is in “Ready for development’ state. 


What does this mean: Define what the “normal” condition of the work area. Define how to correct “abnormal” conditions. The standard should be easily understood and easy to communicate (i.e. visual controls)

 How it’s applied: There are standards available. Not to be rigid on this, every organization depending on the domain and technology can have bare minimum guidelines to help the POs and Scrum teams in scripting the stories. 


What does this mean: Implementing solutions to address the root causes of work area organization issues. All employees must be properly trained and use visual management techniques.

 How it’s applied: Regular reviews of the refined backlog will keep it up-to-date any time. Frequent housekeeping of the backlog will ensure the backlog is hygiene and only valid stories exist.

5s is an input for backlog grooming activity to ensure the stories are complete and concise. This may not be perfect approach, but surely helps in maintaining good quality of the backlog, respected by scrum teams and management team.

Your feedback in increasing quality of the backlog is appreciated.



Tips on backlog grooming

5S Reference


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