August 8, 2018

A well-organised product backlog can help your scrum team tackle work items more effectively


Tip 1: Create value, not tasks

Ensure each item in the product backlog is a feature, not a task for individual members of the team. When I say ‘feature’, I mean that it’s a complete deliverable that brings value to the user.

Lining up different tasks for team members actually prevents them from working collaboratively as a team, whereas features do the exact opposite, facilitating cohesion and value delivery. This is why a feature must be a single item that describes what the team as a whole needs to accomplish to create a specific value.

A feature is one item that encompasses what the whole team needs to accomplish to create a specific value for the end user. Click To Tweet

Tip 2: Always be aligning

All items that make their way towards the top of the product backlog should be in alignment with the “INVEST” criteria to ensure they are ready to be taken into a Sprint. You may have read this from the work of Roman Pichler–if you haven’t, I highly suggest you look him up.  The INVEST criteria were originally created by Bill Wake. It means that each item must be all of the following:

  • Independent: should operate separately from the rest of the following items
  • Negotiable: there should be some room for the team to negotiate the way in which it’s executed
  • Valuable: Its delivery must create value by itself
  • Estimate-able: It must be defined well enough to be properly estimated
  • Sized Appropriately/Small: The item must be small enough so that the team can easily create it in a fraction of the Sprint
  • Testable: It’s execution must be testable to meet the acceptance criteria

Use this as a checklist or mnemonic to ensure all items are of sufficient fidelity and quality to enter the sprint or iteration.

Tip 3: Refine as one

Last but not least, it’s important to practice product backlog refinement together as a whole team. That means not just the product owner and a small subgroup, but the entire team. The reason for this is that refining with only a small subsection of the team leaves the rest out of sync and creates a disconnect between the appreciation of value, and the effort required to deliver the work. By refining together, you create a collective knowledge and understanding in the minds of the scrum team. The Scrum Guide recommends to invest up to 10% of the Sprint’s capacity into the activity of Product Backlog Refinement. If your teams does too little of this activity it will first show in suboptimal Sprint Planning events, and then throughout the Sprint, especially the beginning.

I hope the video and tips above help you to organise your product backlog more effectively and have everyone invested in preparation for the Sprint–from the product owners and stakeholders to the individual members of the team who will be completing the work. Once accomplished, this will make for a much more cohesive team. If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to cover, leave a comment below or send me a message through my website. Thanks for reading. See you next time!

Here’s the full transcript:

-Hi, Georg here, helping you unlock your team’s genius.
Welcome back to another episode in the Power of Three series where I’m spending just three minutes sharing my top three encouragements on a particular subject.
In this video, I’m going to talk about your product backlog or work items and ensuring you really boost that up to scratch.
And with that, let’s put three minutes on the clock.
So the first thing I’d like to ensure that you have in place is that your product backlog is structured based on features and user-orientated value, creating features rather than discipline tasks, meaning it is a big dysfunction for the team as a whole that prevents them from really becoming a team when, in a product backlog
item, everything is split out in tasks that each individual team member is doing.
So there might be an item in there about a development task or a design task and so on and so forth, and that is rife with dysfunction for the team.
It is much better for team cohesion and value delivery to organize the product backlog based on user-orientated features, right?
So one item that describes everything that the team as a whole needs to accomplish and create in order to create a specific value for the end user.
Very important piece, and that leads me onto the second one.
When it comes to your product backlog, the items in the product backlog should be in alignment with the INVEST criteria, so something that you probably have come across.
Roman Pichler has done great work to explain that in his body of work.
INVEST criteria means that each item needs to be independent of any other, needs to be negotiable, so the way that it needs to be created needs to be flexible.
Then it needs to be valuable in its own right.
It needs to be estimatable, which is not a word, I’m aware, but it needs to be defined well enough so that you can estimate it.
It needs to be sized appropriately or small enough so that the team can realize it quickly and deliver it to the user, and it needs to be testable.
So that is a great mnemonic to ensure that the items in your product backlog are of good quality.
Then last, but certainly not least, is that you refine the product backlog together as a team, and that
means that not only one of you or maybe just the product
owner or product manager refines the backlog or
that just a subgroup refines the backlog.
You want to do that together because you are creating a collective understanding, a collective knowledge of the product in the minds of everyone in the team.
And if that is done in only subgroups, then some people will always be out of sync and there will be disconnect between the appreciation of not only the value but also the effort and complexity required to deliver everything that is in the product backlog.
So refinement needs to happen together, and you want to do enough of it.
I’ve already done a video about refinement that I linked to in this video, so you can check out my top three encouragements for refinement sessions, as well.
And with that, we are just running out of time.
Thank you very much for your time.
Please like, share, and subscribe if you found this useful, and share any thoughts and ideas for future videos in the comments below.
Thank you very much and until next time, goodbye!

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About the author 

Georg Fasching

A leadership team development specialist, International Coach Federation - Professional Certified Coach, with global product management experience since 2000, employing Agile & Lean since 2010, Georg Fasching guides leadership teams to delighting their clients, fulfil their people, and improve their prosperity.

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