What Is Backlog?


by John Custy
July 22, 2016

A while back, I received an email from an associate in Brazil asking what backlog was and how we measure it. His questions made me rethink how I thought of backlog.

The first question was, “What do you include in backlog?” Consider the scope: If you have a request (incident, access, service) that is within the service level agreement (SLA), is this considered backlog? In my experience, backlog (often referred to as "ticket aging") is a metric used in workforce management and is one of the factors used to determine staffing and scheduling, as well as a measure of efficiency and efficacy. Not all requests need (or can) be completed immediately, and we need to understand the amount of work “in queue,” as resources need to be scheduled to complete these requests.

The next question was, “Is everything in the service queue backlog?” Whether you have logged/accepted the request or not, isn’t this still backlog? If it is, then backlog is more than just what is scheduled, and we need to be careful that we don’t double-count requests in the queue (not yet addressed) and requests that have been processed or are in the queue, but not yet completed.

In researching definitions, I found several variations:

  • Things still to be done, or a quantity of unfinished business or work that has built up over a period of time and must be dealt with before progress can be made
  • To accumulate work or material that needs to be dealt with
  • Work that you should already have done, or an amount of work or other things that you should already have done or dealt with
  • Accumulation, pending orders, unmet demand, delays in care, waiting list, etc.

All of these are valid definitions, depending on the type of backlog you are considering. For the typical support center, I think the best definition is a consolidation of the first two definitions—the requests which have not yet been completed and need to be dealt with. Might this also mean that backlog is a key performance indicator?

Regardless, the definition is important to the service provider, as customers and suppliers will both measure and report on your backlog, so you must be clear to avoid miscommunication.

How do you measure backlog? Do you think backlog is valid a KPI for a support center?


John Custy is a services management authority with extensive experience helping organizations improve their services delivery, become more strategic, and increase value. He is an internationally known speaker and educator who challenges us to think differently. John received his MA from Boston University and his BS from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. In addition, he has earned his ITIL Manager, ITIL Expert, ISO 20000 Consultant, KCS Consultant, and Kepner-Tregoe (KT) certifications. He is also a member of the HDI Faculty and the HDI International Certification Standards Committee, the 2015 recipient of the Ron Muns Lifetime Achievement Award, and a Cherwell Software IT Industry Legend.


Tag(s): supportworld, KPI, metrics and measurements

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