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Pitfalls of an Ungroomed Backlog

Posted by Pallay Raunu on Mon, Jun 12, 2017

Product Backlog Refinement - sometimes referred to as Backlog Grooming - is an on-going task with an aim of keeping the Backlog, or master list, in an orderly and clean fashion. This is so the team (and wider audience) knows what customer value is to be released next. By doing regular house-keeping on the list, the planning of the next chunk of work should be easy to visual and refine.

Usually the Product Owner (or Product Manager) is solely responsible for the content, availability and ordering of the Items within the Backlog.

Depending on the client, project, or team, it’s apparent that Refinement rarely happens according to the Scrum book. If fact, it’s sometimes not considered a ceremony and left open ended.

Below some of the some common pitfalls I’ve seen on projects are described with some pragmatic approaches on what can be tried.

Notice that I’m making use of proper nouns to label the key elements here to signify their importance. Thanks to smartfamilypets for the image!

This will be a series of posts and I will updates the links as they become available

1. It belongs to the PO

The Backlog conventionally belongs the Product Owner. Their sole responsibility is to:

  • own the Product Backlog and the Items within it
  • ensure that they are well defined
  • capture the need and the clarity for development and testing
  • describe all and any additional functional or non-functional requirements
  • make the Items meaningfully small
  • keep the Items self-contained enough so that they not dependent on other Items

This is undoubtedly an overwhelming task and you can see why being a Owner is considered a 24/7 job. It is even more problematic when a Product Owner's time is constrained, whether due to other commitments or lack of understanding of the responsibilities, and the impact to the project.

Is there anyone that can help the PO?

Putting a pragmatic hat on, I suggest that the wider team have the expertise to help refine - or define - the Backlog Items.

There’s a couple of reasons for this:

  • Assigning a single proxy to write the tickets ends up leading to same issues of time-constraint or confused requirements
  • The team can gain an ownership and understanding of the tasks and Stories
  • The team can consider any technical and business assumptions or risk sooner
  • There is an opportunity to validate and verify the subject of the Item earlier on, which can prevent it being blocked soon into development

So even though the Owner has ultimate governance of the Backlog, the information it holds can come from the experts in the business and technical teams. If there is a PO bottleneck, it can be isolated and those with capacity, can collaborate and add to the Backlog.

Topics: agile, backlog, grooming

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