Delivering a Backlog-item

Product teams work out of a Product Backlog that consists of customer-valued backlog-items. Despite using Agile practices, often we have unacceptable long lead-time of a backlog-item. This post discusses the underlying thinking — often exists in product delivery — that impacts delivery of backlog-items.

1. Current way of work

Upon identifying customer valued backlog-items, often a team does not have answers to upfront questions for each. This team progresses through refinement sessions to obtain the needed answers. Successive refinements are meant to mitigate risks and resolve blockers “before” the team commits on its delivery.

Even when the team gets the answers, actual progressing in the work almost always reveal:

  • New questions to be answered
  • The need to revise known answers
  • Up-front questions become irrelevant altogether

This creates incompatibility between:

  • How we think about a backlog-item; that it should to be clarified upfront, estimated, and delivered on target. 
  • The reality , the team can only clarify a backlog-item incrementally based on doing deliberate steps and learning from each.

2. Scientific Thinking as the way of work

“Scientific Thinking(ST) involves continuous curiosity about a complex world we can’t control or predict, and drives us to want to take the next step to understand a little better.” Mike Rother.

The above definition agrees with the nature of backlog-items in product development.

2.1 Teams which adopt ST deliver their work differently

  1. Do initial analysis of the backlog-item to determine the question(s) need to be answered
  2. Based on what we learned so far and prior steps, decide on the next step, mentioning:
    • The question(s) to be answered, and
    • The expected results
  3. The team holds a coaching cycle (probably during daily stand-up) with its leader
  4. Do the step
  5. After completing the step:
    • Record the actual results, and
    • Reflect on the actual results.
  6. Go to 2

2.2 A team plans each step one at a time

Each step adds new learning and is built on what the team has learned so far. A step must be inexpensive and short. Team-leader when agreeing on each step provides needed support to the Scientific Thinking way of work.

While each step is an experiment, more importantly this way enables teams to deliver the right product faster. Meaning, delivery and experimentation are one and the same. In short, experimentation is the way for delivery.

2.3 Coaching team on Scientific Thinking

The role of team-leader is to coach the team on adopting Scientific Thinking as the way of work. These daily coaching interactions emerge new team behaviors needed to tackle daily challenges.

3. How Scientific Thinking will help

A team does not have to wait to get all answers before it starts working on a backlog-item. These upfront answers are usually invalidated and therefore might need to be changed. A team can get more reliable answers when it starts development early — using Scientific Thinking — to learn through doing.

Published by Sameh

I coach teams and their managers on Scientific Thinking, Lean, and Product Innovation. I have realized that the real coaches for teams are their managers, because they model the desired behaviors and actions. Furthermore, I shifted my focus to coach managers to champion experimentation in their teams, which has created a lasting impact.

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