Archive for the ‘Product Development’ Category

Agile

Whilst Agile frameworks such as Scrum and Kanban are a great way of taking steps towards becoming more Agile, it’s important to remember amongst their own principles and guidelines, that the ultimate objective is to deliver customer value/the product vision in an efficient and competitive way.

To help avoid losing sight of this objective and falling into the trap of obsessing about the intricate details of the frameworks too much, it’s important that gap analysis is done frequently on the actual Agile manifesto and principles themselves to see how you can shape the Agile framework to achieve agility and the real benefits of being Agile.

The 4 Agile Values/Manifesto

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

The 12 Agile Principles

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

How Spotify have adopted Agile

Analytics

The short answer is yes – the product/team will definitely benefit by having web/app analytics tracking as part of the definition of done (DoD).

The only time that a separate analytics tracking story should be written and played is typically in the scenario of:

  1. There’s no existing analytics tracking, so there’s tracking debt to deal with including the initial API integration
  2. A migration from one analytics provider to another

The reason why it’s super important to ensure that analytics/tracking is baked into the actual feature acceptance criteria/DoD, is so then:

  1. It doesn’t get forgotten
  2. It forces analytics tracking to be included in MVP/each product iteration as default
  3. It drives home that having tracking attached to a feature before it goes live is just as important as QAing, load testing, regression testing or code reviews

Unless you can measure the impact of a feature, it’s hard to celebrate success, prove the hypothesis/whether it delivered the expected outcome or know whether it delivered any business value – the purpose of product development isn’t to deliver stories or points, it’s to deliver outcomes.

Having a data-driven strategy isn’t the future, it’s now and the advertising industry adopted this analytics tracking philosophy over two decades ago, so including analytics tracking within the DoD will only help set the product/team in the right direction.

Velocity

Velocity = Projected amount of story points which a team can burn over a set period

A development team’s velocity using Scrum or Kanban can be worked out by totalling up the amount of points which has been burned across 3-5 sprints/set periods and then dividing it by the periods the totals were calculated over (taking an average across the periods).

It’s important to use an average across the last 3-5 periods, so then holiday seasons and a sprint where items have moved over to the following sprint doesn’t dramatically impact the numbers as much as it would if you only looked at the last period.

A team can use their velocity in many ways, for example:

  • Understanding how many points they can commit to during sprint planning/work out how many PBIs (Product Backlog Items) could be done across the next 2 weeks
  • To aid prioritisation (The ‘I’ in ROI)
  • Predicting when software can be delivered in the backlog, which can then be used to forecast future feature delivery
  • Understanding the impact on any resources eg. Scrum team member changes or adding extra teams to the product
  • Understanding the impact which dependencies are having which can be reviewed in the retro, great example being build pipelines
  • Providing a more accurate estimate than a t-shirt size
  • As a KPI for efficiency improvements

I tend to refer to points being ‘burned’ rather than ‘delivered’ because it’s quite easy to fall into the velocity/story point delivery trap of obsessing about points being delivered rather than obsessing about delivering outcomes (business value).

Strategy

VMOST = Vision, Missions, Objectives, Strategies and Tactics

Each product should have a clearly defined product vision, KPIs and strategies if it’s expected for the development team to deliver outcomes/head in the right direction and using the VMOST canvas is an effective way of showcasing what these are in a clear and concise format.

VMOST example

Vision: A passionate and exciting statement which typically should only be one sentence, where in a nutshell it should explain what your ambition is/what is your end goal of the product and who it’s for. More info on creating a compelling product vision can be found here.

Missions: In order to achieve the product vision, there would be multiple high-level missions you need to go on – what are the biggest problems which need solving before achieving the vision.

Objectives (KPIs): You can track progress of your missions through setting multiple objectives (aka KPIs), which would include metrics which are measurable.

Strategies: Initiatives which would deliver/impact the objectives (KPIs).

Tactics: Multiple ideas (Epics) which would deliver each strategy. The tactics should be laid out on the product roadmap, so there’s a nice link between the product VMOST and product roadmap.

Although the product owner is responsible for defining and owning the product VMOST, it’s important that it doesn’t happen in silo, as it takes collaboration with the rest of the business especially stakeholders/data/customers to help provide some guidance on the selection of problems to solve which would be represented on the VMOST.

Once the VMOST is ready, it’s time for the product owner to showcase this in a passionate way across the business and perhaps print it out on A0 to sit near the scrum team on the wall, so it can always be top of mind.

Good luck in creating your VMOST!!

Devops

Development effort isn’t cheap, but extremely valuable no matter what industry you work in, so once a product iteration is ready to ship, automating the final steps including the software build, deployment, environment and release process will help continuously deliver customer value in an efficient way without unnecessary delays or bottlenecks.

DevOps is the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organisation’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity: evolving and improving products at a faster pace than organizations using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes. This speed enables organisations to better serve their customers and compete more effectively in the market.” – AWS

There’s often a significant amount of thought and effort which goes into getting an idea into development, so when the code (solution) is ready to kick off the build (ship) process, it’s important that this is as automated as possible to avoid unnecessary delays with customers getting hold of the feature within a timely fashion.

Due to the rise of the DevOps culture, it’s now possible to automate the whole build, deployment and release process. As well as customers getting features sooner as mentioned above, other benefits of adopting a DevOps culture includes:

  • Software Development division remaining competitive
  • Reduction in waste from having to wait for software to build, deploy, dealing with environment issues and working with the operation team to handle the release
  • Increasing the R in ROI (Return on Investment) as less waste results in delivering more value to customers
  • Improving team morale – dealing with environmental, build and release issues manually isn’t fun
  • Improving on sprint goal complete rates as it’s less likely stories will drag over to multiple sprints because of build / release issues
  • Decreasing lapsed time of development work
  • Improved security
  • Easier to track build to release timeframe
  • Automated
  • Scalable

Adopting a DevOps culture should ideally come from bottom up rather than top down – a Product Owner shouldn’t need to create stories, sell in the importance of it to dev teams or prioritise it, as optimising the software build and release process should be BAU (Business as Usual) and should always be constantly looked at and improved.

As development teams adopt a DevOps culture and they start migrating over to a fully automated process, the benefits will be obvious and lucrative.

Less

LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) is an agile framework for 3-8 Scrum teams, but when there’s more than 8 Scrum teams it’s time to think about adopting LeSS Huge. So let’s look at the differences.

LeSS
LeSS is a scaled up version of one-team Scrum, and it maintains many of the practices and ideas of one-team Scrum. In LeSS, you will find:

In LeSS all Teams are in a common sprint to deliver a common shippable product, every sprint.

LeSS Huge

Less-huge

What’s the same as the smaller LeSS Framework:

  • One (overall) Product Backlog
  • One Definition of Done
  • One Definition of Ready
  • One (overall) Product Owner
  • One Sprint

So what’s Different?

  • Area Product Owners
  • Area Product Backlogs
  • Area Product Vision
  • Set of parallel meetings per Area

It’s important to remember that these frameworks are just guides and every business has their own org structure, so it’s completely acceptable to mould a framework to suit the organisational structure and industry sector.

Capacity

If a product is to be sustainable, tech fit, compliant and competitive it needs to have a short and long term development capacity strategy which will help to ultimately deliver the product vision.

Not having enough capacity could mean spending months / years only focusing on upgrading software versions / maintaining legacy technology or meeting regulatory requirements – not making any significant progress on getting after the product vision or surpassing competitors, having too much resource could mean that another product in the business could deliver a higher return with that resource instead, but having the right amout of capacity is important.

The product having the right amount of capacity should mean it’s possible to get after low hanging fruit, maintaining current tech whilst also concurrently getting after the next generation technology (product vision), meeting security / compliance requirements and having resource to experiment.

Understanding what the right amount of capacity should be isn’t easy, but a capacity planner will be able to help. A capacity planner should ideally be driven by points and velocity, so that no matter where the feature is on the feature pipeline (received a high level t-shirt size or has been broken down into stories) it’s possible to easily update the capacity planner with a more accurate estimate as the feature goes into development.

The data you’d typically need to lay out in a spreadsheet in order to effectively capacity plan includes:

  • Date (by month)
  • Team velocity – ‘Points to Allocate to Features’ (which already takes into account average sickness, holidays, ceremonies, breaks, training etc)
  • Forecast of future velocity based on an increase / decrease in capacity eg. Are you planning on adding another team to the product in 4 months time?
  • List of features
  • Estimates (in story points) against each feature
  • Priority order of features
  • ‘Points Remaining’ which is calculated as you start filling up the spreadsheet

It’s totally possible to roughly estimate future features by dev sprints, team sprints or man days instead of points as long as you convert it back to points after knowing how many points a whole team burns each sprint (velocity).

Another reason why it’s essential to have a capacity planner is that based on when features start and finish on the plan will drive the product roadmap dates making the roadmap data driven.

Having a capacity planner available is also a handy report when demonstrating to stakeholders that when features are in the correct priority order and once capacity has run out for a given month, then there’s no more room to slip in anymore work and it’s a case of being patient or changing priority / increasing capacity.

Basics

As a product scales there would often be an increase in capacity / scrum teams working on that product, enabling multiple features to be worked on concurrently, which would be a sensible time to review whether it’s time to adopt the LeSS (Large Scaled Scrum) framework.

As there are some additional elements involved in LeSS vs. Scrum including:

  • All of the Scrum teams work as one team, from one product backlog and with one Product Owner to deliver common goals
  • Having a joint sprint planning with members of each scrum team to decide on what product backlog items (PBIs) to commit to delivering in the next sprint
  • Overall Backlog Grooming (OBG) where members of each scrum team decide on what PBIs to assign to what teams, so they know what features to groom and get in a ready state for an upcoming sprint
  • Overall Retrospective where members of each team discuss highlights from their individual team retrospectives with the aim to learn and improve on how the whole team operates

It’s important to ensure that the Scrum teams have mastered the key elements of Scrum before considering using the LeSS framework, so before moving over to LeSS, see how you’re doing against the below questions:

  1. Are the teams using velocity to measure whether process changes they make are improving their productivity or hurting it?
  2. Are fast estimation sessions happening frequently so that the product backlog has rough estimates?
  3. Is it easy to predict when software will be delivered for the current and future projects based on the backlog being sized?
  4. Are sprint burndown charts monitored every day?
  5. Is analytics part of the definition of done?
  6. Is there a strong DevOps culture in all of the teams?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these then perhaps it’s a bit too early to adopt LeSS.

Pipeline

With a long list of ideas / problems (features) to solve, there needs to be a solid view of exactly where features are in the idea to customer flow, so that anyone can view the status of a feature anytime without constantly asking.

Having a ‘feature pipeline’ report also proves helpful when providing stakeholder monthly / quarterly product updates.

A feature pipeline typically has multiple columns similar to a Kanban view, but it’s important to keep the content at a high- level (feature / epic) rather than stories.

Pipeline

Example Feature Pipeline Format

Some of the columns you’d have on a Feature Pipeline would be:

  1. ‘Idea’: which would be a long list of features sorted by value
  2. To Be T-Shirt Sized‘ (WIP 5): top 5 highest value features move over to a sizing column – in order for the idea to be prioritised on the product roadmap you need a rough size. It’s recommended to have a WIP (work in progress) limit
  3. Capacity Planning‘: once the feature has been roughly sized, it’s then possible to analyse when the feature can be worked on based on capacity and priority (value vs. effort (t-shirt size))
  4. Delivery Quarter‘: based on the capacity planner which should drive the start and end dates of features on the product roadmap, what quarter does the feature planned to be delivered in

There are plenty of tools available to visualise your feature pipeline eg. Aha! and JIRA and it’s a good idea to compliment that with a guide which includes SLAs for each stage of the pipeline and a t-shirt size mapping, so it’s clear what a ‘Small’ or ‘Large’ is for example.

Having a Feature Pipeline in your product toolkit for everyone to access when they want will help ensure that high priority ideas get to customers in a timely and transparent way.

Goals

No matter what product a development team works on, there will often be a big backlog full of high priority customer-centric / commercial work to deliver, technical improvements to make, bug fixing, getting after the next generation technology and security / regulatory / compliance work, so it’s important that there’s clarity over what the specific headline goals are for the development team to achieve over the next sprint / time period.

Some key points when setting goals:

  • They should be specific, but also be accompanied by a high level summary of the bigger picture
  • They should all be action-orientated
  • Make sure your goals are measurable so you know if they’re done or not at the end of the period
  • Indicate a period they’re valid for until they’re reviewed
  • Share the goals with stakeholders and senior management, as well as the review of whether the goals were ‘done’ or ‘moved over to the next period’
  • They should be realistic and the development team should agree to the goals

Setting frequent delivery goals is not only important so that the right focus is being spent on the right things which will increase the likelihood of making progress on solving the highest priority problems, but it also gives visibility of the overall progress made on product iterations and highlights problems in the process if goals are frequently not met, whether it’s due to build pipeline / environment issues or last minute dependencies for example, which should be discussed in the retrospective.

Setting delivery goals, reviewing, celebrating and learning from them should be the norm like it is when everyone’s objectives are set across the wider business.

Gap analysis

A Product Owner creating and maintaining documentation for new and existing features is just as important as those who maintain documentation in other roles especially developers.

Whether you use Confluence or other documentation software, having documentation makes it easy to provide context and clarity around the importance of getting after a particular feature whether it’s to the development teams or stakeholders.

When a new feature / problem / idea has cropped up, it becomes very useful to start documenting elements before any development effort is spent creating user stories or getting Product Backlog Items (PBIs) in a ‘ready‘ state. The key elements being:

  • One line description about what the feature is
  • Tagging in contacts eg. Product Owner, Technical Architect, Scrum Master, Stakeholders etc
  • Problem / Value including metrics / data
  • High-level requirements
  • As Is‘ and ‘To Be‘ flows which indicates where the gaps are
  • Competitor analysis if relevant
  • Actions / Next Steps
  • Technical details
  • Identifying and Tagging in dependencies

Having ‘As Is’ (Current State) and ‘To Be’ (Desired State) flows is a great way of clearly identifying where the gaps are, where you need to get to, what your competitors are doing in addition and what you need to do to get to your desired state. Having requirements visualised in this way also provides clarity of what you’re looking to achieve and becomes an easy way to digest and collaborate on the requirements vs. a long list of written requirements.

Spending time documenting the analysis of the idea / problem will help get the idea to a customer as efficiently as possible, providing clarity to the stakeholders and developers as to the ‘what‘ and ‘why‘.

Idea

Getting an idea (problem) to customers (solution) is a complex cycle no matter what organisation you work in, but constantly monitoring and optimising the whole cycle will make it as smooth and efficient as possible improving the ROI for product iterations.

Irrelevant of the size of the problem that you’re looking to solve, it’s still important to firstly understand the value of the problem – why does it need to be discussed any further let alone hit the development teams for rough sizing? Unless you have data or a solid rationale to specify the size of the problem or opportunity, it simply shouldn’t go any further than the analysis stage. Not only is the value crucial for prioritisation, but it’s also important for the development team to know the benefit of working on the PBI (Product Backlog Item).

Once you’re confident the problem is worth solving, then it’s time to set the priority by weighing up the opportunity with all other PBIs and having a gut feel on size is totally acceptable at this stage to avoid draining the development team time with every single idea and talking about work, rather than progressing with solving high priority problems.

Before the feature touches a team for grooming it’s important for Product, Delivery and Technical to collaborate on how much resource gets assigned to solving the problem or phase eg. One team, two teams or all teams – depending on the option could impact in flight features and efficiency, so it’s important to collaborate over different delivery scenarios before rushing into a decision just because a deadline looms, as getting more teams onto a problem to solve could make the delivery go slower and impact efficiency unnecessarily.

Getting a PBI / Feature from idea to a ‘ready‘ state for development stage takes a significant amount of grooming which involves the Product Owner, Development Team and Technical Architect all of which is vital to ensure that when development starts that the right problem is going to get solved in the right way, rather than anyone wondering during development what problem they’re solving, what the value is or having to do loads of rework further down the line. This is one of most important parts of the delivery phases with the key elements being:

  • Solid ‘As a’, ‘I want’, ‘So that’ description which should give a crystal clear indication of who wants what and why
  • ‘Value’ of the problem
  • Acceptance Criteria of the requirement
  • Background / context which could be a link to Confluence which shows ‘As Is’ and ‘To Be’ flows / UX and can be used as part of a kick of for the feature to the development team
  • Any dependencies
  • Notes from the team working with the Technical Architect on any up front technical designs

When the PBI is in a ‘Ready’ state and prioritised high enough, then it goes into development whether that’s in a Sprint if it’s Scrum or on a Kanban board. The ‘in development’ phase gives you the most opportunity to improve efficiency / throughput and the Scrum Master is key to help the team achieve this (continuous improvements) whether it’s helping unblock impediments, coordinate with other development product lines or suggesting ways of getting PBIs over the line. There’s no harm also in hiring a Scrum Master for a team using Kanban, as ultimately the Scrum Master role is to help / support the team progress and the things which a Scrum Master would help out a team for Scrum would also apply to Kanban eg. Chasing down impediments, coordinating dependencies, removing blockers and working with the Product Owner on improving the quality of the Product Backlog.

Delivery

Once the ‘Definition of Done‘ (DoD) has been met including demo approved, it’s time to ship the product iteration to customers. Believe it or not, after all the work that happens prior to this, the release process is the part that could get stuck for weeks depending on the architecture and how the release process is monitored for Scrum (as often it’s outside of the DoD), but again this is where the Scrum Master can really step in to add value coordinating with release managers, but also suggesting release, environment and pipeline improvements to the development team and PO by reviewing delivery KPIs. For Kanban, tracking the release process is much easier as every process up to live gets incorporated on the Kanban board as there’s no set time boundary aka sprint.

Lastly it’s time to go back to step 1 (the analysis phase) and iterating based on how customers use the latest product iteration.

Like I said at the start, the Idea to Customer cycle is complex and involves a lot of people, but monitoring, testing out other agile frameworks and optimising the phases within the whole cycle will yield in a higher & quality throughput of features getting delivered to customers, so it’s important that the people responsible for Product, Delivery and Technical collaborate closely having this high up on their agenda and regularly communicate to the business the fantastic efficiency improvements which have happened recently and what’s up next to optimise.

CSPO

Whether you’re a product led organisation or keen to take product ownership to the next level, a good way to ensure that Product Owners are well equiped to effectively handle their product in an agile environment is through various Product Owner Certifications.

The first level of certification is becoming a Certified Scrum Product Owner, where the course is typically over a two day period with modules including:

  • Introductions to Agile and Scrum
  • Agile Basics
  • Scrum Basics
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Team Chartering (Ready, ‘Done’ and Team agreements)
  • Product Visions
  • Product Roadmaps
  • User Stories
  • The Product Backlog and Product Backlog Refinement
  • Agile Estimating and Planning
  • Sprints
  • Participant-Driven Q&A

Acspo

Once you’ve become a Certified Scrum Product Owner and you want to take product ownership to the next level then attend the Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner® course which includes:

  • Product Backlog Prioritisation & Refinement
  • User Stories
  • Rapid Vision Generation
  • Roadmapping That Works
  • Value Proposition Design
  • Hypothesis Testing
  • Use Cases
  • Getting to Done
  • In-person Collaboration
  • On-line Collaboration with Weave
  • Understanding Yourself as a Product Owner
  • Lift-off for Agile Teams
  • Scaling Scrum and other Agile processes
  • Extreme Programming
  • Facilitative Listening I & II
  • Inclusive Solutions

Csppo

The final step is becoming a Certified Scrum Professional Product Owner. Certified Scrum Professionals challenge their teams to improve the way Scrum and other Agile techniques are applied. They have demonstrated experience, documented training, and proven knowledge in the art of Scrum.

Are you ready for the next level of experience and expertise in the art of Scrum? If so, it’s time to elevate your career further by earning the CSP®credential.

Ownership

The product development lifecycle is complex, but in order for it to run like a well oiled machine there needs to be solid product ownership at the heart.

The below video explains Agile Product Ownership incredibly well and covers:

A typical Product Owner R&R would also be:

  • Market analysis
  • Competitor analysis
  • Customer analysis
  • Trends
  • Product line strategy
  • Product Vision
  • Product Roadmap
  • Backlog prioritisation
  • Epic / feature scoping
  • Epic breakdown to user stories
  • Requirement workshops and documenting them
  • User story definition
  • Detailed acceptance criteria
  • Backlog grooming
  • Sprint planning
  • Acceptance of user stories
  • Retrospectives
  • Daily stand-up

More info here on how to scale product when the time is right.

Scale

Once a product is mature and the product roadmap is filled up with valuable product iterations, it’s likely that the product owner and senior management will be keen to find out how some of the financial value driving product iterations can be delivered sooner.

Whilst having to balance technology improvements, technical debt, regulatory, security, bugs, dev ops and business requirements with only having one development team on the product stream would make this difficult, as there’s little room to work on multiple different types of work concurrently eg. business requirements concurrently with the more technical driven requirements.

To work on different sets of requirements concurrently, the product would need to scale which would involve adding additional product development teams to the product line. With more development teams working on the product would also require additional firepower from the technical architect and product owner role if delivery is to remain efficient and ROI positive.

An example of how you can scale the product owner role across multiple development teams who are working on the same product line:

Chief Product Owner (CPO)

  • Responsible for ensuring that the Product Owners are handling their product lines effectively
  • Handling the high level product strategy across all product lines

Product Owner (PO) / Senior Product Owner (SPO) of the Product Line

  • Market analysis
  • Competitor analysis
  • Customer analysis
  • Trends
  • Product line strategy
  • Product Vision
  • Product Roadmap
  • Backlog prioritisation
  • Epic / feature scoping
  • Backlog grooming
  • Sprint planning

Product Owner of the Development Teams (Associate Product Owner (APO))

  • Customer analysis
  • Epic breakdown
  • Requirement workshops
  • User story definition
  • Detailed acceptance criteria
  • Backlog grooming
  • Sprint planning
  • Acceptance of user stories
  • Retrospectives
  • Daily stand-up

The Associate Product Owner of the development teams could also be referred to as Feature Product Owner, Junior Product Owner, Product Executive or Business Analyst.

In order for the Product Owner to be able to focus on the product vision, prioritisation of the product backlog and product strategy to ensure the product remains competitive, it’s important that when adding additional development teams to the product that they get additional product owner support to help them out with the more tactical day to day activities, as you can see from the split in tasks above – Product Line Owner handling more strategic tasks especially prioritisation in all instances and the Associate Product Owner handles more tactical tasks.

Spreading a product owner too thin with little support could result in a lack of focus on both product strategy and getting product backlog items delivered in an efficient way.

Ops

All products will have an element of BAU (business as usual) and strategic work, where both are equally important to get after if the product is to remain competitive now and in years to come.

BAU work can also be referred to as ops (operational) work and I’ve always preferred the word ‘Ops’ over ‘BAU’ because no problem to solve should be looked at as solving it in the usual way which BAU can often be treated like. Also there’s often a stigma attached to BAU irrelevant of the business value it drives which is bonkers, so let’s look at the definitions of both:

  • BAU – work which doesn’t involve significant architecture redesign or thought, but BAU work is typically the blood line of the business
  • Strategic – work which involves a significant amount of up front technical design and often uses the latest / next generation technology. Strategic work often comes into play if there’s an architectural org restructure, the existing technical platform is no longer fit for purpose or it’s a new product

When it comes to delivering either BAU or Strategic work, there’s a couple of ways:

  1. Simply follow the same agile process which any other problem does, which includes adding a high level PBI (Product Backlog Item) detailing the problem to solve with value and then the Scrum Master / Team Lead looks well ahead in the product backlog to start contemplating approaching the ‘how’ with very close collaboration with the Technical Architect (TA) with the aim to get the item in a ‘Ready‘ state for development. This would in turn lead to the development teams planning in Technical Support backlog items to help the TA with technical designs, spikes or investigations well in advance of the problem appearing towards the top of the backlog which applies to both Scrum and Kanban.
  2. Split development resource into BAU only and Strategic only

The risk with No 1 is that the Scrum Master doesn’t collaborate with the Technical Architect soon enough resulting in the PBI hitting the top of the backlog before technical designs have started, causing significant delays to getting after the strategic work.

But there’s a much bigger risk to No 2 where there would naturally be a big reluctance for a team to work purely on BAU and therefore miss out on any green field project and there’s risk of breaking the ‘One Team’ mentality across the product development teams working on the whole product together and in turn impacting team morale.

With facilitating processes and tasks at the heart of the Scrum Master role, it requires someone with a proactive, helpful, motivated, can do, kind, organised and supportive mindset in order for requirements to be solved in an efficient way in the right priority order.

With the Product Owner, Developers, QAs, Technical Architect and Stakeholders all focused on getting their job done where there are clear boundaries, it needs someone to fill any missing gaps or connect them together in order to get the job done, which is where the Scrum Master comes in.

Let’s look at a day in the life of a Scrum Master:

Scrum master

Done

Once the product backlog is in a good quality condition and the product backlog items (PBIs) start moving into development, there’s a significant amount of tasks to tick off before the feature can be marked as ‘done’ and therefore ready to ship.

Typically a development team would use a ‘definition of done’ (DoD) as a reference to ensure that none of the processes get missed off before it’s ‘done’, as each of those processes are essential and could have considerable consequences for the business and customers if it’s not done.

Some examples of what could be in a definition of done:

  • Code is reviewed by someone who didn’t do the PBI
  • Code is deployed to test environment
  • Feature is tested against acceptance criteria
  • Feature passes regression testing
  • Feature passes smoke test
  • Feature is documented
  • Feature has analytics tracking
  • Feature approved by UX designer / stakeholder
  • Feature approved by Product Owner

Missing any of the DoD processes before a feature gets delivered to a customer could result in critical bugs across the feature, causing bugs across other features in the code, bring down the product or delivering the wrong requirement, so it’s essential to take the definition of done seriously even if it means taking the PBI over to the next sprint resulting in potentially not meeting a sprint goal.

Invest

In order to avoid lots of panic and chaos the day before sprint planning because there’s no work in a ‘ready‘ state, it’s essential to have regular backlog grooming sessions which would result in having at least six weeks’ worth of high priority ‘ready’ work in the product backlog.

To get PBI’s (Product Backlog Items) in a ready state, it can take a lot of effort especially when it comes to chasing down dependencies or getting answers around the business requirements, but this is where the Scrum Master comes in to help out – although the Product Owner owns the product backlog, it’s the responsibility of the Scrum Master to help, guide and support the team to ensure they’re having frequent effective backlog grooming sessions, so there’s a good few weeks worth of ready PBI’s.

A new PBI is the start of a conversation and shouldn’t include solutions, so there should be ongoing questions around the requirements well in advance of the work going into development, until the development team feel they have enough information to size the PBI and then mark it as ready if there’s no dependencies.

It’s important to have a good quality product backlog (high priority items in a ready state) and frequently groom PBIs, to ensure the development teams are not only working on the highest priority items, but also that they’re working in an efficient way.

Some tips to getting a good quality product backlog:

  1. Create the user stories and prioritise in the backlog sooner rather than later – as a minimum the story needs to include ‘as a’, ‘I want’, ‘so that’ language with some high level acceptance criteria which will help start the conversation with the developers, giving them weeks to ask questions up front before it appears towards the top of the backlog.
  2. Making the problem / requirements clear with a stakeholder point of contact within the story for reference
  3. Having a clear title (summary) to the story, so you don’t have to open it up to find out what it’s about
  4. When there are questions from the developers to answer either by the Sub Product Owner (or Product Owner), stakeholders or technical, try to avoid leaving these unanswered for days – these should be responded to immediately as a priority
  5. For the ‘Feature Backlog‘ to be presented to the team monthly or bi-monthly, so they know clearly what the value of the relevant PBI’s are with some context around them
  6. Having flexible backlog grooming sessions – there’s no rule here, the teams can get together everyday if they like to groom the backlog until they’ve caught up
  7. Reinforcing to the development teams that they don’t need to know exactly what code to write and where in order to size the PBI, but instead the sizing should be based on a suitable solution making some assumptions
  8. Attaching customer flows / UX to the PBIs, with a link to ‘As Is’ and ‘To Be’ documentation

At least 10% of the teams time should be spent on grooming the product backlog and unless enough time is invested or they don’t get the support they need from the Scrum Master or Product Owner, then there’s risk of inefficiencies or the teams working on low priority PBI’s (Product Backlog Items) as the high priority items aren’t being groomed enough in time for sprint planning.

To compliment the Product Roadmap, there should be a prioritised product ‘Feature Backlog’ which gives both stakeholders and the development teams a detailed overview of the Product Roadmap items still at that high level (Epics / Product Iterations).

If you use JIRA to manage your software delivery projects and you have your product roadmap items at an Epic level, then you’re able to simply setup a Kanban board with just one column called ‘Feature Backlog’ with a filter set to show only Epics and Epics which are ‘in progress’ or ‘to do’.

To visualise the feature backlog in a better way than the Kanban board, it’s possible to also show that same JIRA epic search filter across the likes of Confluence or Aha! where you can specify what JIRA fields to show.

Depending on your custom fields in JIRA, looking at the Feature Backlog should give stakeholders and development teams working on the product a high level (iteration / epic) idea of:

  • Priority order of all epics / iterations
  • Status – what’s in progress, planned or to do
  • Business value – whether it’s driving x incremental revenue, saving x money, avoiding x fees, meeting regulatory requirements, contract deadlines, tech debt, advancing technology etc
  • Description of the iteration / problem you’re solving
  • Delivery date which should match the dates on the product roadmap
  • Size of work

The Feature Backlog is a great way of showcasing at a high level the value of the product iterations which are currently being worked on and what’s planned in the next twelve months.

The Feature Backlog also helps the development teams understand the details of what problems are upcoming to solve, so they’re able to think about how to approach each epic / product iteration well in advance.