Scrum is all about rhythms. Teams that are successful with Scrum establish a sustainable cadence for collaborating with each other. Each of the sprint ceremonies help us move toward our goal, and remind us what’s coming next.
Scrum is pretty straightforward about how to establish the right rhythms for the team, but organizing your work as a product owner is a little murkier. You know that sprint planning happens every two weeks, but what do you need to do to prepare? Your team does backlog refinement for an hour every week, but how far in advance do you need to start working on stories to make that meeting worthwhile?
In this article, I’ll share the rhythms that have worked well for me as a product owner. The Scrum ceremonies act as a trigger – a reminder that there’s something I need to do. I’ll organize this article by those triggers, and we’ll work our way backward to see what we need to do to prepare.
I read a wonderful article the other day that surrounded some specific techniques for portfolio management.
Here’s a link to the article: http://www.infoq.com/articles/visual-portfolio-management
I immediately thought of the SAFe guidance for portfolios and just really enjoyed the simplicity and practicality of the approaches in the article.
For example, the article diagram illustrates visually how an organization is moving portfolio items from Idea…to Live or “Cash”. Clearly it’s a Kanban approach, but I don’t believe there is exhaustive analysis (business cases, etc.) for each idea. The board simply radiates the portfolio and each item moves forward based on (1) it’s on merit and (2) the organization determining that it has value.
Jason Tanner is a colleague of mine here in the Cary, NC area. He’s a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) with the Scrum Alliance, which means he can teach certified ScrumMaster and Product Owner classes.
With that title and role comes a responsibility to stay pure to the “rules” of Scrum and its defined practices.
So, Jason will often argue with me about specific agile practices such as:
- Sprint #0’s
- Hardening Sprints
- Release Trains & Planning
As (1) not being part of Core Scrum, and he’s certainly right about that, and (2) just being plane old bad practices. It’s here that I sometimes push back a bit on Jason, thinking that he might be a bit too purist in his approach and thinking.
But it’s all done in good humor and with respect. Or at least I think it is. But that’s beside the point.
I teach quite a few teams about User Stories. Most struggle with the concept, at least initially. One of the key challenges for many is the notion that stories are iterative. That you visit and refine them often, instead of the “once and done” view that we have for traditional software requirements.
Part of that revisiting is reinforcing the collaborative nature of the stories. The nature that says they are “intentionally incomplete” in order to encourage conversations around the story. Remember the 3’C’s from Ron Jeffries: Card-Confirmation-Conversation, with conversation being the most important ‘C’?
I thought it might be helpful to go through a life-cycle example of how stories morph and change as they approach an execution-ready state. So here goes a somewhat contrived example—
Chris Waggoner is a friend and colleague of mine. He is a CSC, Certified Scrum Coach, and a very experienced agile practitioner.
He sent me the following snippet in an email that I wanted to share:
"If Agile is a team sport, then the product backlog is the ball." - Chris Waggoner
I'm trying to get a group of PO's to realize that they should not attempt to complete a product backlog on their own but they should seek help at every phase of grooming stories and massaging the backlog. On the flip side I'm trying to involve teams who believe it’s the Product Owners responsibility to bring them a completed, ready to consume story that they to are responsible for the completeness of stories and the state of the backlog. This metaphoric phrase above came out of my mouth and it made sense to everyone once it did.
Chris Waggoner, CSC
Managing Consultant | SolutionsIQ
It was unsolicited, but nicely aligns with my own thinking.
I’ve been a Mike Cohn groupie for as long as I can remember. Mike has written, what I consider to be, three of the seminal books on agile approaches for software development. I’ll leave it as an exercise for you to lookup the books, but he’s really been one of the leading voices on how to “do Scrum” and “do Agile” for an incredibly long time.
I took my CSPO class from Mike and Ken Schwaber, just so I could learn from two of the “masters” in my agile journey. And when anyone asks me for a recommendation of an instructor for a CSM or CSPO class, Mike is at the top of my list. I remember sending all of our potential ScrumMasters at iContact years ago to Mike’s CSM classes. My logic was, that if we were going to spend the money, we might as well go to the best.
Now that I’m looking at the start of this article, I’m almost embarrassed as to how much of a Mike Cohn groupie I am. But I digress…
If you’ve any experience in agile approaches for software development, one of the common arguments surrounds documentation. Mostly it centers on software requirements, but it also extends to other forms of documentation, for example design or user centered documentation.
Many agile teams struggle with documentation. My experience aligns with folks leaning one of two ways:
- Either they continue to write requirement documentation (and literally ALL documentation) as if they were still operating in a Waterfall environment, or
- They write user stories that are so terse as to be hardly useful in describing the customer’s expectations. And they often stop writing anything else.
In other words, they go to the extremes of documentation instead of finding a healthy, lean, and communicative balance. One of the reasons for this seems to be our view of documentation as being the sole “repository” for product and team knowledge. While that’s true, I also like to remind agile teams that there is another viable form or place for that knowledge – which is the teams’ memory. Since many of the agile ceremonies are whole team events, I like to ask teams to use their collective memory as part of their product information and knowledge archive.
In 2009 I wrote the first edition of Scrum Product Ownership as a way of helping Product Owners understand their roles and responsibilities better. Before that, it was mostly an exercise in guessing and survival. In 2013, I updated the book in a second edition. In both books I took on the topic of Backlog Grooming.
As it turns out the term “grooming” is losing its luster in the community and terms like maintenance and refinement are replacing it. I believe the latest copy of the Scrum Guide uses the term refinement. So I will try to start using Backlog Refinement consistently throughout this article. That being said, I really, really like the implications of the term grooming.