Groom for Success!!
31 Jan 2017
The scrum guide does not explicitly call out the backlog grooming (AKA Product Backlog Refinement) as a separate meeting. The underlying assumption being that Scrum Teams should do their level best to mitigate the risk associated with a user story before committing it to a sprint.
The meeting that ensures success of a sprint and maximizing value delivered by team is the product backlog refinement meeting. Unfortunately, it is the most underutilized/ignored meeting in most organizations. It is perplexing why a team would not want to reduce the risk associated with their user stories to ensure greater ROI.
Some of the reasons for an absolute disregard of this meeting by organizations are:
1. Waterfall Hangover: In a waterfall project, planning and risk mitigation is the responsibility of the project manager and the project leadership team. Individuals and team members have little or no involvement in planning/risk mitigation. This is done as because historically individual contributors are viewed as “only” an implementation/delivery resource. This hangover mindset leaches into the scrum framework, hence team members are not involved in the refinement meeting. This failure to meet the basic tenet of the Scrum framework adds immense risk to project success.
2. Dividing the Team: Due to this waterfall hangover, the Scrum Master, Product Owner or the Technical Lead become responsible for planning and grooming. Since one person is responsible for the planning, the team members congregates to this person on what needs to happen during the sprint…. Sound familiar?? You have just created a pseudo manager for the team.
a. Other impacts of this process are the following
i) Not leveraging the technical expertise of the team
ii) Team has little or no visibility on what is the work coming down the pipe
iii) Self-organizing teams that take responsibility for work are not formed
3. Further degradation of the framework happens due to this mind set, which include
a) Sacrificing an integral part of success for teams in delivering value by providing technical feedback
b) Cross-training of team members and reducing the risk for the team and project
c) Not fostering the confidence in the team to be able to complete the work
d) Create islands of knowledge within the team, which does not help building a strong cross functional team.
4. How do you fix it?
a) A team can spend up to 10% of their time just grooming/product backlog refinement.
b) Have multiple smaller refinement meetings over one long weekly meeting. Individuals and team loses its focus during a long meeting discussing technical options.
c) The team can decide to have a check list to ensure the user story is ready to be planned i.e.
i. Ensure there is no external dependency of any other team or contractor
ii. User story is small enough to be transformed into a potentially shippable increment
iii. Ensure that there is a no dependency on the security teams i.e. Access to database etc.
iv. SME’s are involved and will be available for the team to work during the sprint where we will work on the user story.
5. Product Owner availability: Unlike other Scrum Ceremonies, Product Owner should lead the backlog refinement meeting.
6. Detailed preparation and active participation of the Product Owner is required to have a successful refinement session. Often times, PO is unavailable or unprepared to answer team members’ questions about the product and user stories. This causes ineffective meetings and meeting cancellations. Which leads to wastage of time and money.
In closing, I would like to say that Scrum is a very easy framework, but the hardest part is changing the mindset on how we deliver the project. So, there are two points you want take away:
- Organization needs to understand their rationale for moving to Scrum, and not just follow the herd. This involves understanding the benefits of the framework and their responsibility to adapt the organization to support the framework.
- Leverage the collective knowledge of the individuals and teams-THE MOST VALUABLE ASSET OF AN ORGANIZATION. If implemented correctly, you will see greater value delivered by the team and also a happier team.