Most software Product Owners would agree that planning for the work that the Agile development teams will undertake is a mix of both art and science.
While the “art” is driven off of a mix of experience, point in time information, fire of the day, and gut feeling, the “science” is often left behind. Additionally, the appropriateness of art vs. science differs depending on the target backlog: Tactical or Strategic.
Agile Backlog PlanningAgile organizations work off of clear work hierarchies that help to align all the way from the organizational structures down to specific work assignments. Of course, this alignment is crucial to ensure that the actual work is directly supporting an overall strategy for a Product or Program.
The Art of the Tactical BacklogThe Tactical Backlog lives down at the Story, Bug, Refactoring level. There are often metadata and other indicators used by Agile teams to assist in informing this planning and prioritization. These can include but are not limited to:
- Interdependencies – Foundational work must precede other dependent efforts
- Severity/Criticality – Typically for Bugs, but also used for other Issue types, the severity/criticality can help to inform as to urgency of need
- Customer Demand – Business and Customer needs (along with communicated timelines for delivery) can also dictate and inform timing
Agile planning whether in slotting issues for Sprints or grooming the Kanban Ready for Development backlog rarely follows the strict order of priority as ranked in an organizations Agile Planning tool.
In an ideal world, the priority order would match the work order but we don’t live in an ideal world and Product Owners must deal with day to day decisions based on resource availability, blockers, and other intangible factors. If a UI developer frees up but the next priority is server heavy, the work assigned to the UI developer could be something much further down in the priority list based on the current situation.
The Science of the Strategic Backlog
Perfectly executed tactical planning without a strategic compass gets the organization nowhere fast.
Determine who across the organization needs to be involved
Determine an appropriate meeting cadence
Determine a feeder strategy
Collect Basic Epic and Budget Data
Establish a Framework for Portfolio Decision making
- What if there are new disruptors we have to undertake? How do we react? What should slip?
- Are we doing all the most valuable Epics as soon as possible?
- Are we within budget for the next 3-6 months? If not, are we overrunning at an acceptable tolerance?
- Are we keeping our risk profile at an acceptable level?
- Are we balanced across the mix of projects we’d like to undertake?
The Tactical and Strategic Cycle
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