Birds lined up as a metaphor of lining thngs up

Lining things up!

Items on any backlog proliferate. Product backlogs used in agile and lean development approaches are no different.  Many outsiders have the mistaken notion that once on the list that is the end of the story. Mentally the story goes something like, I told that product owner in the email that I needed “x” and that it was important to a C-level executive, therefore it is in the backlog, the team will expedite their new priority, and magically new functionality will be delivered.

In broad strokes getting stuff on the backlog just the first step.  A step that anyone should be allowed to execute. Once on the backlog, there are a few steps every organization should follow:

  1. Quick triage of work items.  This represents a quick review to determine if the story should go further in the process.  The review can lead to a quick rejection or acceptance and prioritization. Some of the criteria typically addressed include:
    1. Determining if the story is complete (or complete enough) and understandable.  Malformed stories can be fixed before they are socialized and then refined.
    2. Decide if the story belongs on this backlog.  Route the story to the relevant product.
    3. Ensure that the work items fit the product owner’s vision.  There is no need to accept stories that will never be prioritized high enough to get worked on.
  2. Socialize the work item.  Before proceeding to refinement the product owner should shop the work item to other stakeholders to make sure they understand the need and potential business value.
  3. Establish priority of the work item.  High priory items take precedence for refinement.
  4. Refine the story at the appropriate time. Backlog refining is a full-scale triage with a subset of the team ensure a piece of work is ready to plan.  Refinement sessions should follow a set of rules to be efficient (Three Rules of Refinement).

In this simple workflow, the “magic” happens in step 3.  Over the next few installments, we will explore three categories of prioritization techniques that will demystify prioritization.  The categories are:

  1. Qualitative including forced ranking and Kano.
  2. Quantitative including Return on Investment  and Weighted Shortest Job First Approaches
  3. Other including learning needs and product mapping.  

Entries in this theme:

Backlog Refinement Revisited: Three Rules –
Prioritizing The Backlog: A Flow of Work – (This Entry)
Prioritization: Simple Qualitative Approaches –
Prioritization: Intermediate Qualitative Approach –