Acting on brilliant ideas

I was recently asked on Twitter, “Using a Product Backlog helps stay focused on current sprints, but how do you strike the balance between logging spontaneous ideas and acting on genuinely brilliant ones immediately?”

question about backlog

It’s a great question which many people can relate to. Let’s dive in.

Test for brilliancy

There are several times a day I think I have a brilliant idea. As a result, I want to jump into doing it right away. However, we can all agree that it’s highly unlikely that one person can have several brilliant ideas in one day. 

Do you know the best way to test of your idea is truly brilliant? Give it a test of time. If its perceived brilliance holds after a few weeks, then it’s truly a good idea.

That’s what backlog is for. It’s a storage place, a petri dish of sorts, where you allow the bad ideas to die while the truly good ideas grow.

If it’s a brilliant idea, it shouldn’t lose its brilliance while you finish your sprint. If it loses relevance so fast, it’s not worth spending time on.

95% of my ideas suck. Backlog is the tool that allows me to find the remaining 5%.

Time is limited. Daily energy and focus are finite. Don’t waste it on being reactive to ideas that will lose their relevance by the next sprint. 

Is it resistance speaking?

From my experience, many *brilliant and urgent ideas* are our brains trying to avoid working on our sprint goals.

Remember when it felt like a brilliant idea to have a spring cleaning session when you were supposed to study for exams?  Or declutter? Or start a side hustle? Been there. Done that.

Again… put it in the backlog. You have the full freedom to choose this goal for your next sprint.

Do it after your daily sprint tasks

In a well-planned sprint, you never plan for too many goals. I tell my students to fill no more than 50% of their available work time. The other 50% will be filled with your other commitments, meetings, admin work, emails, etc.
The other advice I give my students is to finish their daily sprint work by noon. This way, you have time to do other less important but urgent work in the afternoon.

If you really want to work on your brilliant idea, do it “after hours.” Do it after you do the necessary work on your sprint goals. You’ll have added motivation to finish the sprint goals quicker.

Include in the sprint but pay the price

Let’s say this brilliant new project passed all the tests, and you want to do it this sprint.

Of course, you can include a new goal in your running sprint on a rare occasion. BUT you need to pay the price for doing that.

What sprint goal of equal size will be removed from your sprint board?

There should always be a limit on how many goals you pursue in a sprint. I prefer 3-5, depending on how busy I am with other commitments during the sprint. If I choose 5 goals for the sprint and then have a brilliant or urgent project I need to pursue immediately, I have to remove one goal of equal size from my sprint board.

The price of pursuing a new idea is not pursuing the goal you previously planned to pursue this sprint. 

In most cases, I don’t want to move any of them back to the backlog and choose to wait till the next sprint to act on the new idea.

This technique really saved me when I worked as a product manager. Senior managers always have urgent and important projects they need you to get done ASAP. However, when you ask them to choose another project from sprint that won’t be done, they rarely can choose one and decide that their *urgent project* is not that urgent.

Lose the urgency

I would like to conclude with a philosophical take on this problem.

Very few things are truly important. Even fewer things are truly urgent.

Will this matter 10 years from now? 

If yes,

Will it matter 10 years from now if I start working on this project in 3 weeks vs. now?

Calm is an utterly underrated quality for achieving success in all areas of life.

I’m a big advocate for building calm businesses, calm lives, and calm productivity. I write about it often:

If you are new to Agile philosophy, you can find the core principles on the Start Here page.


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