When to size Product Backlog Items?

When is a good time to size product backlog items? I have come across varied opinions on this topic. While for some it makes sense to size stories during a backlog grooming session, others suggest that PBIs should be sized in the initial part of sprint planning. Additionally, I have seen teams size PBIs multiple times, 1) during Product Backlog grooming to help Product Owner with predictability and 2) during sprint planning as the team gets to the next level of details for the PBI. So what is the right approach?

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The key objective of sizing stories during backlog grooming it to provide relevant data to the Product Owner to prioritize the product backlog and provide an opportunity to the stakeholders/customers to make long term predictions.

While I have had teams size stories multiple time, this approach feels redundant. Following are some ways to size your product backlog items:

1. Periodical grooming (monthly/quarterly) – This can be a scheduled periodical meeting where the team can size stories for the next 2 to 4 sprints.  This can be done on a day between sprints to allow the Product Owner to plan for a larger goal and write additional stories to achieve the goal as needed. Deliverables at the end of each iteration will help the PO to re-plan and re-prioratize the product backlog.

2. Once every sprint – Some teams like to get into a backlog grooming session once every sprint. This is typically done when the team wants visibility into what is coming up in the immediate next sprint. The team collectively spends one hour to go through the highest priority stories in the backlog.

3. As needed after Scrum – With some teams a Product Owner’s presence during the daily Scrum is an indication of the fact that there are stories to be sized. This typically works well as the number of stories to be sized are generally lesser in number.

Teams having to size PBIs directly during sprint planning generally result in issues. Having the team to size the stories during the grooming session works best. This also presents an opportunity for the teams to identify dependencies on other teams and notify them, identify spike candidates as needed and brings about an overall visibility into what is coming next.

So if you have a un-sized product backlog, go ahead and get it sized by the team and make it an ongoing activity to deliver value continuously.

Is release planning becoming redundant?

Talking about Agile projects, release planning used to be discussed about just as frequently as sprint planning or sprint review, however; lately I have observed teams not really emphasizing much on release planning to make it feel like something non critical.

For starters, release planning was looked at a formal release at the end of x number of sprints where x could be anything between 2 to 6 sprints. However today, teams that are trying to derive classic benefits of Agile release their code more frequently than ever before. I have known of teams releasing code every sprint to teams that release code multiple times during the sprint. I came across a talk about continuous delivery at Etsy where the code is released in production 35+ times each day. This equates to a release less than every 15 minutes.

Speaking about teams that deliver that often, its quite certain that not much time is being spent planning for what needs to be delivered 2 to 3 sprints down the line. Planning happens in a “just in time” manner knowing the immediate needs of the customer.

Thinking through, it probably is time to redefine the term “release planning” itself to refer it as a method that allows customers to realize  value on a continuous basis allowing for full customer involvement and speedy issue resolution or is it time to say “Goodbye release planning”?

 

Coaching? You got to be kidding..

Looking back in time, last 6 years have been amazingly wonderful. During this time  I have seen my 2 kids grow and mature as I continue to grown with them. Time spent with the kids has always been the biggest stress buster. Whether it was watching them smile while taking those short naps to reading their first story or wanting all my attention as soon as I got home at the end of the day.

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As I think through how they have grown, I see a lot of similarities between bringing up kids and coaching teams. My parenting journey has helped me develop myself to fit into the coach role. With kids, coaching begins the moment a child starts to identify you as someone who they can trust and someone who is there to make their tomorrow better. Here are some key activities that I think have helped me enhance my coaching skills:

  • There was a time when they would just listen. They would just wait to get instructions and follow. It was up to me as a father to ensure that they were engaged and watching as I worked towards building a strong foundation.
  •  As they continued to grow, we celebrated every single achievement and guided them to overcome failures.
  • Come the age of 2 to 3, they started to explore. Explore ways of doing things differently without caring too much about the end result. I was happy to let them explore but made sure that they stayed within the boundaries and principles.
  • And there were those off days when they just refused to listen.  That was the time when punishing was not an option. I had to be patient, wait for them to settle down and then have a one on one discussion. The discussion was retrospective of what should or should not be done.
  • As I walk this wonderful journey of brining up my kids, as a parent I continue to provide constant feedback so that these basics principles of life are constantly reinforced.

My daughter Nehmat is now 6 years and she is one self sufficient kid. There are times when I need to get back to my coaching role as she continues to grow but I guess this is one assignment where I won’t mind being involved for the next few years.

My son Arjit is 3 and needs constant coaching. My coaching with him is in the “Storming” phase where there are more disagreements as we continue to work towards his next stage of maturity.

I am sure there are coaches out there without kids or who are not great fans of kids, this is just a glimpse of my life with my wonderful kids. They continue to challenge me each day with their thinking and that pushes me hard to continue learning and improving.