The Liberators
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The Liberators

If you like, you can also order the Product Backlog by aesthetic value — although we’re not sure that that’s the best idea :)

Myth: In Scrum, the Product Backlog is prioritized

Busting the Myth

Prioritizing versus ordering?

“By framing the Product Backlog as a prioritized list, we oversimplify the role of the Product Owner.”

Factors that influence ordering

  • Dependencies between Product Backlog Items, external parties, and within the Development Team can influence order. Certain items may be easier to implement when other items have been implemented first. Or an external supplier needs to do work before other items can be implemented;
  • The risks associated with implementing, or not implementing, a particular item. Perhaps the implementation of one item helps us learn something important about the product we’re developing. Does a particular technology offer a good foundation for further development? Do users respond well to this prototype of a new feature, before proceeding?;
  • The knowledge of a Development Team may be a consideration. Perhaps implementing an item helps a team learn something that is needed for further development. Or perhaps a certain set of items can only be implemented when the Development Team has acquired the required knowledge;
  • The needs of the customers influence the ordering, as items that address needs of our customers deliver value for our business (increased revenue, sales, being able to bring a new group of customers in, etc);
  • The cost of implementation influences the ordering. Perhaps there is work on the Product Backlog that — once implemented — simplifies work for future items. Like setting up a continuous deployment pipeline, refactoring parts of the product, or implementing that automated import script. Cost may also be a consideration on the level of individual items, as the cost of development may outweigh priority, value or risk;
  • Business conditions may change, prompting some items to be moved up or down the Product Backlog;
  • The cost of delay influences ordering. Donald Reinertsen considers this the cost of delaying the implementation of one feature over another;

Tips

  • As a Scrum Master, you can help a Product Owner arrive at an optimal ordering by asking powerful questions. “Which items help address the biggest assumptions we’re making?”, “If you were to stop three sprints from now, which items would certainly have to be included?”, “If you could only keep 20% of the Product Backlog, which items would you keep?” or “How can we optimize the ordering to address dependencies?”;
  • The Liberating Structure ‘Min Spec’ can be used to help inform which items on the Product Backlog are absolutely critical to success, and which aren’t;
  • As a Scrum Master, help the Product Owner find alternative strategies for ordering the Product Backlog. Coach the Product Owner to inspect the ordering frequently, based on insights that have emerged during development;
  • The Sprint Review is an excellent opportunity to inspect and adapt the ordering of the Product Backlog with the Development Team and stakeholders;

Closing

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Christiaan Verwijs

I liberate teams & organizations from de-humanizing, ineffective ways of organizing work. Passionate developer, organizational psychologist, and Scrum Master.