Jeff and Chad start the podcast by describing the key differences between a frantic and stressful backlog vs a strategic and focused one. In this segment, Jeff and Chad describe their observations of product backlogs in many of the clients they work with, noting that the backlogs tend to be task-based and the Product Owners try to please everyone.
They emphasize that saying “yes” to something in the backlog means saying “no” to something else, and they suggest that focusing on outcomes and impacts and thinking about options can help prioritize backlog items.
They caution against task-based backlogs leading to a project management pattern for the Product Owner and suggest that helping the team get clarity while focusing on setting goals can be more effective.
They introduce the idea of “strategic distance”, i.e. how far from strategy is a certain backlog item. They determine that distance by asking the “why” question for any item on the backlog, and they give an example of how it might take many “why” questions to get to the essence of a backlog item.
They suggest zooming out and capturing more of the what and the why for backlog items and caution against using the backlog as a “catch-all” in an anti-pattern.
Creating Strategic and Focused Backlogs with Impact/Outcome Statements
In this segment of the podcast, Chad and Jeff describe how to create strategic and focused backlogs. They note that there is often confusion between Product Vision and product goals, and suggest that writing impact/outcome statements can help orient the backlog.
They give an example of a product goal of reducing cart abandonment, as opposed to the task of processing credit card payments.
They also suggest using experiments to determine what really works for the goal, and ask how software teams are being used effectively.
Jeff and Chad also discuss how Scrum Masters can help Product Owners implement these changes and offer tips such as not waiting to refine the backlog, reminding everyone why backlog refinement is important, ensuring the right people are present, shifting the majority of talk time to those who need to create the increment, summarizing and validating shared understanding, using diverge and merge cycles, and ensuring everyone has something to do and is engaged.
Starting the Conversation: Tips for Scrum Masters to Help POs Achieve Strategic Backlogs
In this segment, Jeff and Chad describe how they have been able to move teams and product owners to strategic and focused backlogs. They present the example of the Lean Canvas, which has been covered on the podcast before.
They note that many Product Owners already want to be strategic but may not know how to get there, and suggest using tools like the Lean Canvas or creating a one-pager for the product release to create a “north star” for the team and PO.
They also recommend the Product Box exercise and asking questions to highlight focus in the product vision.
The hosts then discuss tips for Scrum Masters to start conversations with their POs, such as asking about the PO’s experience with the backlog and zooming out to avoid prioritizing at the task level.
If you want to know more about how to help your Product Owner create a Compelling Product Vision, check out this free e-course we’ve created for you.
Coaching Agile Teams, Scrum Masters, and Product Owners towards Self-Sufficiency in Strategic Backlog Creation
In this segment, Jeff and Chad discuss common problems that teams, product owners, and scrum masters face when trying to move towards strategic and focused backlogs. They first identify an anti-pattern where the company culture favors an “order taking” pattern, making it difficult for teams to transition from task-driven backlogs to problem statements quickly. They suggest tracking dependencies and being a generalist instead of a specialist in order to be more responsive.
They also emphasize the importance of impact/outcome statements instead of activity-based management and the importance of avoiding separating people from the value they produce, which can lead to less engagement.
The segment then shifts to discussing typical PO coaching journeys and how Scrum Masters can help them become self-sufficient. They offer tips on how to start engaging with POs, such as asking them if the backlog brings them stress or joy and not prioritizing at the task level.
Resources that can help you achieve a strategic and focused Product Backlog
The Agile Wire podcast is a great resource for those interested in Agile methodologies, as it covers a wide range of topics related to Agile, including Scrum, Kanban, and Lean. The podcast is hosted by Jeff and Chad, and provides valuable insights and advice based on their real-world experiences.
Another resource recommended by Jeff and Chad is the Impact / Outcome / Experimentation mindset, which emphasizes focusing on the impact and outcomes of a project, rather than simply completing tasks. This mindset encourages experimentation to find the most effective ways to achieve the desired outcomes.
Finally, the Lean Startup book by Eric Ries is also recommended, as it provides practical advice for building successful startups using Lean principles, including validated learning, rapid experimentation, and iterative development.
About Jeff Bubolz and Chad Beier
Jeff is a Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) with Scrum.org, organizational agility advisor and speaker. He has been a Product Owner, Scrum Master and Development Team member and has worked with companies ranging from enterprise to small start-ups.
Jeff is the co-host of The Agile Wire podcast where he speaks with industry leaders around the world. He speaks at conferences across the United States and is active in the Wisconsin agile community.
Chad is an organizational agility advisor, external change agent, and Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) with Scrum.org. He works with all levels of the organization to optimize your business to respond to change.
Chad is the co-host of The Agile Wire podcast where he speaks with industry leaders around the world. He speaks at conferences across the United States and is active in the Wisconsin agile community.