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Peter Hozák
Peter Hozák

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Issues are not tasks

JIRA tickets, GitHub issues, Trello cards, Excel todo lists. Our in-brain memories are not enough to plan and track all the tasks in our software projects; we (programmers, testers, product owners, project managers, ...) collectively decided that we need external tools.

And our tools became so good in collecting ideas that every team on Earth now generates more ideas than they can ever hope to complete. For many of us, we learned to accept this fact of life as an inevitable emergent property in the "machine" for producing complex software (whether or not we hate all of those estimation and prioritization meetings from the core of our souls).

Yet, for many people (especially for programmers motivated by the purpose of a project), ever-growing backlogs are a big source of anxiety and burnout. And the truth is, the more "open" issues there are, the harder it is to organize them. Backlog cleaning sessions and automated tools to close inactive issues are ever more popular.

However, issues are not tasks. They are a mental tool, to help with our memory and to help with our communication. If we treat them as such, we will have a somewhat easier time deciding how to organize our issue tracking tools:

  • if we split "ideas" from "confirmed issues" to another tracking system, will it improve or hinder our memories?
  • if we weave our "vision", "goals", "stories", "bugs", and "sub-task" into a big hierarchy of artifacts, will it help or slow down our communication?
  • if we close a bunch of tickets or just lower the priority, will it make a bigger mess of duplicates or keep us better organized?
  • what should be the title and metadata, what do we need to remember for search, what should pop up from search results, and do we need some reports?
  • given that we cannot document everything, what to put into description or comments; what is ephemeral enough for a chat or a coffee break?

The answers will be different in every team, so we can reasonable expect that the tracking tools will be either configurable or niche.

So, if you feel weighted down by your issue tracking system, remember for your next retrospective:

Issues are a tool for our memory and communication. How can we configure them better?

👋 I am Peter, a.k.a. Aprillion. My strong opinions are held weakly, discussion is open here in the comments or on Twitter.

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