Authors: Bryan Copeland & Deanna Borgelt
With the mainstreaming of Agile frameworks, there is a plethora of information out there for the different Scrum Events. One aspect that isn’t an official ceremony but considered an integral aspect of high functioning teams is Backlog Refinement.
By the book, Backlog Refinement should include the whole Scrum Team and be held at regular intervals. The Product Owner articulates business requirements, polls developers for a story’s overall effort, and prioritizes the product backlog. This helps create a shared understanding of deliverables and their priorities.
In practice, however, getting a unified priority from stakeholders can be a challenging process due to conflicting interests, individual agendas, and differing priorities amongst departments and teams.
As consultants, it is our job to juggle a client’s various interests and take all perspectives into account to deliver products that meet the needs of all. At times, this seems like an uphill battle. When no singular Product Owner is present, aligning stakeholders, articulating critical requirements early, and having a set prioritization process can help ease the way.
By ensuring alignment, the Scrum team can accurately refine their product backlog to deliver the highest priority items every sprint iteration.
Backlog Refinement Tips
Prioritizing your Scrum Team’s work is essential to the Agile framework. This is a continuous process that should occur daily. There are many approaches to backlog prioritization such as opportunity scoring, stack ranking, or cost of delay. However, one solution might not fit all due to cultural differences, organizational changes, or departmental priorities.
Even so, prioritizing work remains important because it allows for structured teams, increased agility, throughput, and improved team morale. This also gives confidence to stakeholders that their voices are being heard, their needs are being met, and the Scrum Team is completing work that is deemed meaningful to them and the business.
So, what do you do when you enter a situation where:
- The organization is undergoing change,
- Several voices in the room provide conflicting priorities,
- Technical debt or architecture maintenance is required,
- Technology teams who have owned a single product now own multiple products,
- Backlogs are being merged,
- Priorities conflict between products, and
- Refining of multiple backlogs is required to understand business priorities between multiple business units?
One approach is to focus on your customer. Ask questions like, “what is truly important work from your customer’s perspective?”, “how can we support their needs/project?” and prioritize your work around those answers.
By focusing on the customer, you enable:
- Buy-in and support from team members and stakeholders
- Alignment between stakeholders and team members
- Relationship growth and trust to foster honest communication channels
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Sounds great, right? So, how to do it?
One suggestion is to incorporate business stakeholders into a team’s prioritization efforts. This doesn’t mean removing the team’s refinement meeting. Instead, view it as an extra opportunity to give internal customers a voice.
This can be accomplished by implementing a recurring stakeholder meeting. The Scrum Master and Product Owner can work to identify their key business stakeholders — or to put it plainly, “who submits the most requests to their Scrum team”. Then, create a meeting cadence to:
- Share the team’s backlog
- Provide updates on work in progress and closed work
- Create a process that allows for prioritization of work needed
This can enable:
- Business stakeholder collaboration and help aligning priority of work amongst various departments, projects, and institutional initiatives
- Product Owner and Scrum Master insight into the business’ strategic goals
- Open door communication between technology and business teams to be more agile and collaborative
This does not reduce the need to deliver:
- Internal team commitments agreed upon through retrospectives or daily stand-up meetings
- Unplanned work such as outages or impacts to key production functionality
- Corporate overhead goals
By prioritizing and aligning deliverables across Scrum Team, stakeholders, and business owners, a Scrum Team can improve upon their ability to capture requirements, prioritize work, and deliver expected results. Focusing on the customer as well as the Scrum Team to refine and prioritize a backlog, you will see an increase in stakeholder buy-in, development velocity, and more LinkedIn connections.
Interested in learning more about how RevGen Partners can help your organization prioritize competing objectives? Head to our Digital Enablement site to learn more about the services we offer.
Bryan Copeland is a Senior Consultant and Product Owner who enjoys building personalized solutions for clients so they can grow and thrive.
Deanna Borgelt is a Senior Consultant and Scrum Master who has a passion for applying agile methodology in complex environments while making sure the customer and client experience is always a priority.