Protect the Product Backlog (and the scrum team)
I enjoy helping scrum teams deliver increments that delight customers. I’ve noticed a few common struggles new scrum teams have to deliver incrementally. If not maintained properly, the product backlog is destined not to be the single source of work for a team and can collapse a scrum team.
Problem: Future-proofing Fallacy
When looking at a product goal and a sprint goal some teams get into this “analysis paralysis” where looking at sprint stories they become overwhelmed with what must be done in a sprint (even if total story points match capacity). When digging further I notice how some scrum team members are on the quest to make the best bullet-proof and future-proof increment known to all humanity.
While it’s very noble for talented developers to deliver the best, it can also stand in the way of the sprint goal.
Solution: Team defines MVP
While the term MVP (minimum viable product) is very common these days, it does take a new team to understand what MVP means to them. The terms “minimum” and “product” are understood. The middle term, “viable”, is where teams can get stuck. Does viable mean proof of concept or a bullet-proof production implementation?
In an agile and scrum sense, every product backlog item is to deliver value to the customer so we can learn. With learning we can update the backlog and keep aiming toward the product goal. So if sprints are supposed to be short (one month maximum, but typically two weeks) how should a team approach the “how” to create a MVP.
Have the team create their own deifinition of MVP. Then, as they go through sprint planning they can use each of the letters as a checklist to ensure that the effort being spent is the minimum effort possible yet will deliver the increment that will be of value to the customer that will produce feedback.
Does that mean the team has to stand-up a full stack application that is ready for thousands of transactions a second? Probably not as we need to get feedback from the user. In a “worst case” scenario even if the users love the increment and want to use ASAP there still needs to be discussions around usage that will most likely be captured in updates to the backlog.
The advantage of scrum is that a small team works together to deliver value for a customer. When coming to common understanding on terms like MVP a backlog will remain healthy and the team will be high performing each sprint.