Backlog you fool!

Backlog you fool!

The illness

A lot of teams i’ve met seem to have the same illness. The main symptom is a chronical lack of involvement. They seem not to be interested in their own work, not to mention any kind of affection towards the work of a fellow team member. All those boring reports they have to deliver to their leader, Daily Scrums, Sprint Planning (smartphones everywhere), Jira-starring formal Sprint Reviews. And the Retrospective or just the lack of it. It gets even better when all the above are mixed together on one meeting. No proper focus. No results that would lead to a constant implementation.

The symptomatic treatment

Scrum Masters are cracking their brains and looking for new techniques on how to get the team involved. Going out for a beer? We’ve not done it for a while. Sounds like a quick-win, but there’s still no commitment. You’d never think how hard it really is to get the team to spend some time together. Maybe some energizing exercises? Nope, didn’t work. Like all the other magic tricks Scrum Masters read about on blogs just like this one.
Usually when I see symptoms like that i ask the team to show me their Product Backlog. Quite often the distress comes just at this point. It turns out no one can actually say where the Backlog is and some of the team members can only point to the tasks they’ve got in progress. When we finally find the Backlog I begin to ask more questions. Where is the roadmap of your product? What are the nearest milestones? What will you have done in two weeks time? What is your progress towards the business goal? Too often I don’t get the answers to any of that.

To the source of this illness

The treatment i choose usually looks the same. The doses and time however depend on the context. I recommend Backlog work – broadly defined. And that means full cooperation on different levels between the Product Owner, the Development Team and the Stakeholders.
What I want to see is a prioritized, well estimated Backlog that has time-marked milestones and at least some simplified metrics showing the progress towards those milestones. To make this effective there has to be cooperation between everyone involved. The profit you get is an increased action transparency and full understanding of the following results. In my opinion this is a must-have key component of developing committed, self-organizing teams with an identity. The line-in-time and associated goals awareness creates circumstances to self-organize.

The cure for everything?

Of course not! You know that in our everyday work we fight complexity going out of schemes, right? Well organized, transparent Backlog is more of an enabler to a sensible requirements management. Unfortunately many teams don’t have this enabler. Instead they like to use some witch-doctor practiques.

So next time, just before you are going to use another fancy-ass action you’ve read on some blog – check your backlog. It’s not that you don’t have a homemade remedy. It’s the backlog. You fool.