Tips for Cleaning Up Your Jira Backlog

That product backlog of yours is getting cluttered, huh? A power user shares his best tips for cleaning things up without making a mess.


For some, spring cleaning begins with the house, the yard, and the garage. For others, it begins with the team’s Jira backlog.

If this sounds familiar, read on below. Because I’m about to share some of my best tips for cleaning up your product backlog, no matter the time of year.

Why Clean Up Your Product Backlog?

Even if you’re the most meticulous and organized Product Owner in the world, and the Developers and Scrum Masters in your team are willing to put up with your meticulousness at the Sprint Planning and Sprint Refinement events, your backlog will sooner or later get cluttered.

Unfinished user stories will pile up at the bottom of the list. Old, uncompleted issues will be returned from the sprint backlogs to the single source of work for the team, the one and only product backlog, only to never be picked up again.

Issues with weird names you jotted down as notes from stakeholder feedback at Sprint Review events will have you and the team wondering what the heck you meant when you first wrote them.

All of this creates inefficiency, and inefficiency creates waste. Sprint Plannings and Refinements take longer because you and the team scroll through a seemingly endless list of user stories, tasks, and subtasks, always wondering if you missed something.

The opportunity cost of underutilized talent—your Developers, your Scrum Master, you—will add up over time as, instead of inspecting and adapting and improving and automating, you’re revisiting and wondering and neglecting and ignoring.

All in all, not a great place to be!

The good news is that you don’t have to dust off the pressure washer and climb atop a ladder to clean your home’s gutters. As a matter of fact, all you have to do is take a little time, alone or with your team, and clean the mess out of your Jira backlog.

How to Clean Up Your Jira Backlog

Step #1. Before You Do, Make a Backup

First and foremost, buy yourself some peace of mind by creating a backup. Before you touch anything on the product backlog, do a full and complete export of the issues in .CSV file format.

How to export your Jira issues as a .CSV file:

Step 1: Fire up your web browser and log in to your company’s Jira instance.

Step 2: From the horizontal bar at the top of the screen, expand the “Filters” menu and go to “Advanced issue search” (it’s the last item on the menu).

Step 3: If you’re in JQL mode, click the blue “Switch to basic” link on the right side of the screen.

Step 4: Click on “Project” and enter your Jira project’s key.

Step 5: Click on the gray “Export” button in the upper right corner and select “Export Excel CSV (all fields).”

Step 6: Wait for to file to get generated and download to your computer, then upload it to a safe space, like your company’s cloud-based file storage service, and share it with the rest of your team.

If your product backlog contains any personally identifiable information of employees or customers, you may need to encrypt and/or erase that data from the export. Talk to your company’s legal team.

Step #2: Decide on an Approach to the Cleaning

Say you’re the Product Owner on the Scrum Team. You will most probably want to do a backlog cleanup as a Sprint Refinement event.

You’d be surprised just how attached most of us are to stuff, and how heated a backlog cleanup (or the aftermath) can get if you don’t consider a thing or do. To make it a productive and fruitful one, consider the questions below:

  • Will you clean up the backlog yourself and not bring in the Developers and/or Scrum Masters on the team?
  • If you will bring in members of the Scrum Team, will you invite everyone to the Sprint Refinement, or only certain members of the team? Will you and/or the Scrum Master decide on that, or will you ask for volunteers?
  • Will you delete work items purely based on subjective judgment, or will you apply some objective criteria? (This is key if many of the stories are co-created with members of the team; you don’t want to make them feel like their ideas are being ignored or rejected.)
  • Will be using Jira filters? You may want to create and save your filers or JQL queries before you get to the cleaning part; it will save time.

Last but not least, don’t forget to triangulate this with the rest of the members of your team, a.k.a. to align with them on your plan and ask for their thoughts and recommendations—regardless of which approach you choose to use.

Remember, Scrum (and agile) are a team sport, not a solo game.

Step #3: Roll Your Sleeves Up and Get Cleaning

Okay, let’s you and I go through the pre-flight checklist.

Full export of backlog in its current state? Check! Approach to cleaning decided and triangulated with the Scrum Master and Developers on the team? Check! Permissions in Jira to be able to delete work items… Check?

You’re all set to go, and you know what needs to be done here better than me or anyone else. Thanks for reading, hope this helped, and have fun cleaning up that Jira backlog 🙂

By Dim Nikolov

Jack of all trades and master of none. Dim is a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) and Certified Scrum Master (CSM). He has a decade of experience as a stakeholder, member, leader, and coach for agile teams.